Policies affecting local action on food
Local food strategies
Planning and hot-food takeaways
Addressing Health Inequalities
Food is essential. How it is produced, sold and consumed affects all of us every day. A range of policies affect the food system from regulations on food safety, agricultural subsidies, and pesticides, to supermarket competition policy, to national and local food strategies. Policies are decided and implemented nationally, European-wide, and locally, therefore some initiatives at the local level will be influenced by a very wide range of politicians, policy makers and the needs and wishes of that local community.
At the local level, policies can cover statutory work on allotments, food waste collection and environmental health, to encouraging healthy eating in schools, to encouraging local food businesses to sell healthier or local food. Many local initiatives are responding to specific circumstances such as addressing health inequalities, or supporting a local farming community.
There will also be many different people in the local authority involved in food, from environment officers, community engagement, councillors, and sometimes the lead body will be the local NHS, or the local authority. Less often there is a food officer in a council. Below are some examples of policy initiatives that attempt to shape the food system on a local level.
Some local authorities or local health authorities develop food strategies that either cover the whole food system or focus on specific themes of food such as health or the environment. The Food Vision website, published by the Local Government Group and the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, holds a list of examples of food strategies around the country.
London Borough of Camden Food Strategy
In 2008, NHS Camden and London Borough of Camden initiated the development of a food strategy for Camden. The process was primarily led by the sustainability team of the Council and the public health team from NHS Camden, the primary care trust for the borough. The strategy focused on; food in the public sector, food growing, food and education, business and enterprise support, food at home and communicating about Good Food. The strategy's steering group - NHS Camden, Camden Council and Sustain - developed the Camden Good Food Partnership, which is a group of more than 150 local organisations, businesses, social enterprises and individuals, all interested in various ways in food (for example, food growing, catering, public sector food, retailing). The Partnership was a vital group for discussing what form the strategy would take and what the priorities of the action plan (within the strategy) should be. The strategy took 12 months to write, including a full public consultation, and was published alongside a directory of healthy, sustainable food suppliers in Camden, London and surrounding counties and 'Your Guide to Good Food in Camden' to enable local businesses to know why and how to source healthy, sustainable food. Importantly, the strategy also contained practical ideas for implementation projects to improve food in Camden. At the time of writing (December 2010) the level of resources from Camden Council and NHS Camden is unsure, due to local authority spending cuts, the Good Food Partnership continues to meet quarterly and is taking on the implementation of the strategy in a voluntary capacity - confirmation of just how important the Partnership considers the objectives of the strategy to be and how vital community involvement is from an early stage.
More about London borough-level food strategies in London can be found on the London Food Link pages and more about the London Food Strategy and implementation on the website of the Greater London Authority, London Food Board pages.
Using planning policy and decision-making is also one way that some local authorities have taken a lead in trying to create a healthier environment, and to encourage a more sustainable food system.
The London Borough of Waltham Forest is reported to be the first local authority with a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) restricting the growth of hot-food takeaways (designated A5 units in the planning system) around schools. The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham also now has an SPD which restricts the over-concentration of hot food takeaways around schools, and the clustering of units. In this SPD, businesses who received planning permission to set up hot-food takeaways would be required to pay up to £1,000 to community-led initiatives. Since the SPD’s adoption, the Council has refused five applications for new premises, with no new applications having been approved. The Council has also successfully upheld one appeal case.
Waltham Forest SPD: Hot Food Takeaway Shops
The SPD seeks to restrict ‘over-concentration’ of A5 units by establishing that ‘Within Primary, Secondary and Retail Parade Zones, no more than 5% of the units shall consist of A5 uses; within Tertiary Zones and outside designated centres, no more than one A5 unit will be allowed within 400m of an existing A5 unit’. The SPD also seeks to restrict clustering of A5 units; and restrict new A5 units which fall within 400m of schools, youth facilities or parks.
The government-funded Planning Advisory Service provides some more examples of policies that some local authorities have developed to restrict the over-concentration of hot-food takeaways.
More information can be found on the planning pages of the Local Action on Food website.
Many councils or health authorities have been involved in setting up food projects such as food co-ops or community growing initiatives in order to either tackle food poverty, food access or health inequalities.
Salop Drive Market Garden in Sandwell
Salop Drive is a three-acre growing site in Sandwell in the West Midlands and was built up from a derelict allotment site in 1996. The Public Health and regeneration teams were involved in developing Salop Drive garden as part of the Sandwell Healthy Living Network. It is now a working market garden, as well as a space for community growing projects designed to benefit the mental and physical health of local disabled and non-disabled people.
The 2008 to 2012 community agriculture strategy for Sandwell mentions that community growing projects like the one in Sandwell are not only contributing to people’s health and well-being, but also “encouraging local ‘resilience’ at household and community level by increasing access to healthy, reasonably priced fresh produce, and acting as an incubator for the development of knowledge, skills and capacity for food growing, healthy eating and food budgeting among both professionals and lay people”.
Underpinning the success of Salop Drive Market Garden, especially in the beginning, was working with the planning and environmental departments of Sandwell Council.
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