Planning overhaul could have “profound impact” on food

New planning rules could limit the spread of unhealthy takeaway outlets and offer more opportunity for communities to operate their own shops.

The UK Government recently announced changes to use classes ahead of broader reform of the planning system. Use class is a classification of land uses which determines whether changes of use to a property are controlled by local councils through their planning powers.

Under the new rules a shop that is currently a hot food takeaway will now need consent to change to another use and vice versa. A new analysis by Sustain, the food and farming alliance, has concluded that this may make it harder for takeaway operators to find new premises given that, if they needed to change the current use to a hot food takeaway, at the end of their lease a future tenant would need permission for any other use.

As a result, Sustain said landlords may prefer to keep their properties in the new Class E which allows them to change the use of the building without seeking new permission. Shops in this class can be used flexibly by having a number of uses taking place concurrently or by allowing different uses to take place at different times of the day. This could include shops, restaurants and cafes as well as offices and medical or health services.

Gillian Morgan, Sustain’s Planning Lead, said the new classification system could have a “profound impact on the food system” by encouraging innovation, stemming the tide on further proliferation of hot food takeaways and encouraging more community food enterprises.

Morgan warned, however, that it may also undermine “struggling butchers, bakers and greengrocers” whose use class is merged into a broader one with businesses that may prove more lucrative to landlords. “The success of these changes to improve access to healthy food will depend on interpretation of the small print,” she added.

Community food programmes could also benefit from a completely new use class that covers local community uses. Sustain said this could offer the possibility for a community hall to run a village or residential estate shop in a food desert – defined as an area where access to nutritious food is scarce.

Pubs, including those with expanded food provision, are also in a class of their own, with the aim of giving them greater protection to serve local communities following recent trends in pub closures and conversions.

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