Fast food faces future in planning slow lane

04 March 2011 by
Fast food faces future in planning slow lane

Barking and Dagenham's successful defeat of pizza chain Domino's planning appeal last week suggests you can have too much of a good thing. The pizza chain had been refused permission to open an outlet in the London borough near Parsloes Primary School on the grounds that it would have contradicted the councils' battle against obesity.

Domino's fell foul of the council's "saturation point planning guidelines", which were adopted in July 2010 in partnership with the NHS. They impose a 400m hot food take-away exclusion zone next to schools - although in the case of Parsloes it's hard to believe many of the four- to eleven-year-olds were planning to give their dinner ladies the slip and nip out for a Pepperoni Feast.

The incident is typical of a growing militancy amongst local authorities, and local support for Barking's policy from the National Heart Forum, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and a number of universities is typical of alliances in place across the country.

In a sector synonymous with indulgence, it is a worrying new development for hospitality operators. After all, neither take-away nor fine dinning, arguments about frequency aside, exactly tick the keep-you-slim box as far as increasingly vocal health campaigners are concerned.

Take professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Just last month he said: "Thirty years ago it would have been inconceivable to have imagined a ban on smoking in the workplace or in pubs. Are we willing to be just as courageous in the respect of obesity? I would suggest that we should be."

While the absence of personal or even parental responsibility is too often conspicuous from the obesity debate, let's not forget that it's a major issue that needs action.

Tony Leeds, obesity management specialist at Central Middlesex Hospital, spelt it out to the BBC in February, stating that with 62% of Britons obese or already overweight there was an "obesity time-bomb" that would see the NHS paying trillions treating weight related illness in the future.

Yet in much the same way that the pub trade is vilified for binge drinking, when arguably a well-run pub is part of the solution rather than the problem, Domino's clearly believes it has not received even-handed treatment, responding:

"We are disappointed that [the council] is claiming the rejection was due to the health agenda. We appreciate that the council has developed its own adopted planning guidance on hot food take-aways and in line with this, we had offered to close the store for collection orders between 3pm and 4.30pm as part of our application. As a result, the appeal decision, clearly states ‘it [the Domino's store] would have a neutral effect on the health and wellbeing of local residents'."

There is also the impact that an operator can have in terms of prosperity within a local area, as 35 new jobs would have been created had Domino's been successful.

Meanwhile, plans to introduce a levy on new take-away restaurants in Oldham, Greater Manchester, dubbed a "fat tax", are advancing. Under the proposals, new take-away restaurants in the town would have to pay a £1,000 levy, which would be spent on controlling resulting litter and promoting public health. Take-aways would also be banned from opening within 500m of schools.

It adds momentum to a movement kick-started by East London's Waltham Forest, which became the first council to ban fast-food outlets from opening near schools, parks or leisure centres in 2009. This change in attitudes saw nearby Tower Hamlets accused of acting unlawfully, after it allowed Fried & Fabulous to open 500 yards from a secondary school in the borough. It's a trend that's set to leave a bad taste in the mouths of operators across the UK.

victims of their own success

Following recession, value for money is king and take-away chains have flourished. McDonald's recently announced record group turnover for last year, while Domino's has continued to defy analyst expectations and maintain its blistering growth.

No doubt to the disgust of health advisers, the fried chicken market has outperformed all, with Mintel research showing sales grew 36% from 2003 to 2008 to represent 4% of the UK's estimated £15b to £20b eating-out market.

In the same period, the fast-food sector as a whole saw sales jump 22%.

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