Stormont has declared war on fast food firms targeting children by setting up shop near schools.
The Executive is to beef up the planning system in a bid to help children stay healthier and combat obesity.
It is hoping to do this with greater controls over:
- Where new takeaways are sited.
- The size of the outlet.
- Overall level of hot food provision in the area.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has ordered officials to draw up new planning rules to prevent the spread of burger, pizza, fried chicken and fish’n’chips shops which can lure pupils away from school canteens.
And with the backing of Health Minister Edwin Poots, the SDLP minister also wants the proposals to be made public in the next three months.
“The (Department of Health) Framework for Preventing and Addressing Overweight and Obesity identifies environment and planning as influences that contribute to obesity,” he said.
“I am taking the appropriate steps of introducing new guidance on the location of fast food outlets, particularly near schools, that will assist in meeting the objectives.
“It is anticipated that this will be published by November.”
Green Party leader Steven Agnew — who first tabled Assembly questions on the issue — said the new regulations would effectively halt fast food outlets opening close to schools.
“The policy is not a ‘silver bullet’ to tackle unhealthy eating, but it would send out a message that changing the food culture, especially for young people, is an important step to good health,” the North Down MLA added.
”But banning the opening of fast food restaurants close to schools won’t solve the problem. This is one piece of the jigsaw. From an early age, children need to be taught about nutrition and how to cook in a way good for their health.”
A statement from McDonald’s said it had not opened any outlets here recently which are near schools and said it isn’t part of its strategy to ‘target' young people by offering meals which are cheaper than school lunches.
At present no planning policy is in place in Northern Ireland to restrict the location of hot food takeaways because of their proximity to schools.
But all fast food development — even the change of use of a building — requires planning permission, irrespective of location.
Current rules state the preferred location, subject to specific criteria, for fast food outlets includes “town centres, district and local centres”.