16 Apr 2020 Blog: Planning, Hot Food Takeaways and Covid-19
We are delighted to welcome the newest member of staff here at Food Active, Catriona MacRae!
Catriona is joining us from the Town and Country Planning Association with a background in urban planning, and will be leading on the delivery of the Pennine Lancashire Healthier Place, Healthier Future Trailblazer programme. In her first blog, Catriona explores the recently ‘relaxed’ planning restrictions on hot food takeaways as part of the response to COVID-19, and the implications this may have on public health.
It is 10am on March 24th 2020 and the planning system has changed, again. Whether you keep up to date with planning or not – it is likely you’ll notice this, temporary, change. The Government have granted permission for pubs and restaurants (and other such uses under Class A3 and A4) to operate as takeaways as part of the COVID-19 response. The new use ‘Class DA’ has been created and ‘an impact assessment has not been prepared for this Order’. Although I do not want to deter from the profound impacts COVID-19 will have on society, and the world as a whole, for years to come; I do, briefly, want to highlight how ‘relaxing’ planning rules may impact some groups.
Takeaways and delivery service
Public Health England (PHE) estimates there are between 26 to 232 fast food outlets per 100,000 people, depending on where you live across England – a number likely to grow due to this new legislation. Just Eat have confirmed they are already experiencing a huge demand for new partners joining to sell their food – figures suggest some 3,000 new businesses have joined the delivery platform since the lockdown came into place . Receiving e-mails such as below has become the regular (for me anyway) and it is clear to see all the ‘new’ takeaways available to order from (and takeaways with low numbers of reviews compared, usually, to the 100s of reviews) are appearing online in ten folds.
Evidence from PHE shows higher concentrations of fast food outlets in the most deprived communities throughout England with some of the most vulnerable living amongst them . We need to support and help these populations to have access to nutrient rich food and maintain a healthy lifestyle during these hard times, not making fast food more accessible.
The workload for local businesses owners will increase and they are forced to continue working, exposing themselves and their families, the same for delivery drivers.
Of course, this a very difficult time particularly for small businesses all over the UK and it is important we do as much as we can to avoid closures and ensure they can maintain income. However, it feels wrong for unhealthy food to be more accessible during a health crisis. As difficult as it may be at present it is important to work with these ‘new’ takeaways to support them to offer healthier options and limit portion sizes.
Local authority teams
Planners have tirelessly defended policies around Hot Food Takeaways, and with the support of public health this agenda is beginning to be taken more seriously. It is worrying to think what kind of impact this will have on emerging Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) and planning restrictions on new takeaways that already come under fire from the pressure of large takeaways chains.
There are definite questions around the monitoring of such a change: ensuring businesses revert to be a café/ pub/ restaurant that no longer offers takeaway options again and how planning teams will enforce this. Will there also be a surge in businesses seeking new planning permission to continue as a takeaway and what kind of impact will that have on the, often already overstretched, workload of planning teams.
Of course, this is not the only challenged faced by planners at present. The Coronavirus Act 2020 enables Planning Committees to continue without Councillors being physically present so staff need to adapt to remote working on, often many, digital platforms. Although the act may assist in some respects, delays will hit emerging Local Plans due to several factors that contribute to the evidence base, and planning applications, conditions and appeals will also be delayed.
Increased workloads to already under-resourced local authorities may lead to less time spent engaging with existing takeaways to encourage them to support the healthy weight agenda.
We are in the middle of very unprecedented times and every single person will be impacted in some way or another. We are in lockdown with a lot of us working from home which means more time spent indoors, sitting down and less time spent outside exercising and socialising. This sedentary lifestyle will have direct health consequences both mentally and physically. As discussed in a World Obesity Webinar, focusing on the two pandemics: obesity and COVID-19, the new pressure of social distancing may lead to relying on unhealthy foods and an increase in ordering calorific fast foods such as pizza and burgers almost to act as a comfort blanket, now with more takeaway options.
As mentioned above the oversaturated market of fast food takeaways in deprived areas can lead to higher exposure to less healthy food options, and with the availability of more takeaways (and possibly more targeted deals as discussed in a previous Food Active blog) this may further exacerbate health inequalities.
Though not all fast food is unhealthy, typically it is higher in calories, salt and saturated fat – a serious health issue when consumed too often.
This may be a temporary change but the ease and speed with which this happened raises questions as to why more support has not been offered by Government sooner, does it also show the economy is put before the health of the nation? The recent outgoing Chief Planner for MHCLG, wrote in his final letter ‘be practical, be pragmatic and let’s plan for the recovery’. He also states, ‘prioritise decision making to ensure planning systems continue to function, especially where this will support the local economy’.
The cost of obesity on the NHS is £4.2 billion a year and this is a number increasing all the time (currently set to rise to nearly £10 billion a year by 2050). It has been well reported the strain and the cost of COVID-19 on the NHS, and the country’s economy; we need to continue to do more to deplete the rising obesity levels and reduce the pressure placed on our health services.
This is a time we should be supporting the population to live healthier lives, look after themselves and not increase unhealthy food consumption. No doubt interesting data will be available in the coming months.
Stay safe and look after your health.
 Fast food outlets: density by local authority in England, June 2019. PHE. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fast-food-outlets-density-by-local-authority-in-england
 The Telegraph. Just Eat enjoys surge of nearly 3,000 new partners. April 2020. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/04/16/just-eat-enjoys-surge-nearly-3000-new-partners/
 England’s poorest areas are fast food hotspots, June 2018. PHE.
 Chief Planners Newsletter, March 2020. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875045/Chief_Planners_Newsletter_-_March_2020.pdf
 World Obesity Live – The collision of two pandemics: COVID-19 and obesity, April 2020. World Obesity Network. https://www.worldobesity.org/training-and-events/events/wof-webinar-the-collision-of-two-pandemics-covid-19-and-obesity
 Childhood Obesity, 2019. Royal Society for Public Health. https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/obesity/childhood-obesity.html