A proposal to limit the amount of take-aways in small shopping parades and centres to no more than ten per cent has been welcomed by anti-fast food campaigners.
The city council has proposed the limit as part of a new planning policy for local shopping centre following a surge in planning applications for chippies, Indian and Chinese take-aways, pizza parlours and kebab shops.
They are increasingly being met with protests from shopkeepers, residents and public health officials.
But attempts by the city’s planning committee to call a halt to the surge have, in the absence of a clear planning policy, been met with costly legal action and an unsympathetic response from Government inspectors.
In Sutton Coldfield the Fast Food – We’re Full group argues that shopping centres such as Boldmere High Road will lose their character as they move to a night time economy with many units shuttered up until 5pm when they suddenly burst into life.
The city’s director of public health Jim McManus believes that if left unchecked the take-aways will further fuel Birmingham’s obesity epidemic.
The new policy highlights 73 shopping areas, grouped into three categories; town centres, of which Sutton Coldfield is the only one, 18 district centres which include Erdington, Kings Heath and The Swan and smaller neighbourhood centres such as Scott Arms, Sparkhill and the Maypole.
The new guidelines aim to balance the amount of retail, professional and financial services, social and community use and restaurants, bars and take-aways in a shopping area. It suggests that in key town and district centres at least 55 per cent of ground floor frontages should be retail, with the figure reduced to half in smaller neighbourhood centres.
The policy also aims to avoid clusters of non-retail uses and the opening hours could be a key consideration. Even more crucial, the draft policy four states: “In order to avoid an over concentration of hot food take-aways within a town, district or neighbourhood centre, no more than ten per cent of units shall consist of hot food take-aways. Applications will normally be refused where this figure will be exceeded.”
This policy also applies to smaller shopping parades. For those with less than ten shops a maximum of one take-away will be allowed.
“This is one of a suite of measures being developed by the council for tackling poor health and obesity,” the policy document explains.
Exceptions can be made where a shop unit has been marketed for 18 months and remains vacant or where a valuable community need is identified. There is a clear exemption for areas like the Balti Triangle where the restaurant and take-away trade is an integral part of the area’s character and a tourist attraction.
Planning committee chairman Coun Peter Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) said: “We have lost so many appeal cases in front of the inspector because we haven’t got a specific policy for centres. This is just another tool in our box to control development of shopping centres.
“It is obvious from the number of take-away applications that they provide a good service for many people. But we have to counter that need with the deleterious impact take-aways have on established shopping centres.”
The draft policy is out for public consultation until December 19 and could be adopted next year.
The Boldmere the Fast Food – We’re Full campaign has claimed victory after seeing many of their demands and concerns met by the new policy.
Labour Party activist and campaign co-ordinator Dr Rob Pocock said: “Residents and shopkeepers have campaigned long and hard for this, and now at long last the council is proposing set down legally enforceable standards for local shopping centres.’’
Shopkeepers found that one out of five shops on Boldmere High Road was a take-away. There are also restaurants or pubs
Birmingham’s director of public health Jim McManus has previously called for restrictions on take-aways as a further weapon in the fight against obesity.
He said he had talked to the planning department to see what could be done to ‘‘stop take-aways being set up or take action because they are not healthy’’.