Headlines: January 24th, 2008

Council leaders have warned that using planning powers to control the spread of fast food outlets will not be a silver bullet in the Government’s fight against increasing obesity. Promoting local authority planning powers to limit the spread of outlets in certain areas, such as close to schools, is one element of a 372-million pound cross-Government strategy to deal with the problem.

The note of caution was sounded by Les Lawrence, who chairs the Children and Young People Board of the Local Government Association, who said, “Councils are up for using all the powers and influence at their disposal, including planning, to play their important part in this. But it is wrong to imply that planning is a potential ‘silver bullet’. At best, councils only have leverage over new outlets or conversions from other uses, not existing premises, and they have to base their decisions on good evidence of potential harmful impacts, and the matters they are allowed by law to take into account.”

Councillor Lawrence said the strategy, launched jointly by Health Secretary Alan Johnson and Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls, rightly recognised the important part councils could play in encouraging healthy living. “From the provision of healthy school meals, to state of the art leisure facilities, councils continue to demonstrate their commitment to tackling this growing problem,” he said.

The strategy has five key elements, the healthy growth and development of children, including an investment in healthy schools; the promotion of healthier food choices, which would include the use of planning powers; building physical activity, including working with selected towns and cities on the European model of using infrastructure and whole town approaches to promoting activity; creating incentives for better health and finally personalised advice and support.