TOWN Hall chiefs have agreed to ban any more fast food takeaways from opening near St Helens schools - in a bid to cut the borough’s growing obesity problem down to size.
Members of St Helens Council’s cabinet have agreed to create 400-metre fast food exclusion zones around every school in the borough.
While this does not apply to the borough’s 161 existing takeaways, it does mean that any new takeaway planning applications will only be considered if they are at least a quarter of a mile from the nearest school.
Fast food outlets banned from opening in the exclusion zones include kebab shops, Chinese, Indian and other takeaway shops, pizza outlets, fish and chip shops and chicken shops.
Those not affected include restaurants, cafes, bistros, pubs, wine bars, nightclubs and sandwich bars.
Councillor Andy Bowden said: “We have become increasingly concerned at the dominance of takeaways in the borough, particularly near schools.
“This move is in response to these concerns and will have an impact on health, particularly for our younger residents, as well as helping to tackle parking, crime and disorder issues in our neighbourhoods.”
The latest figures show that the number of obese people in St Helens now tops 20,000.
The annual cost to the local Primary Care Trust is estimated at £3.6m as obese patients put themselves at more risk of serious illnesses such as heart and liver disease, cancer and diabetes.
In a bid to protect the vibrancy and vitality of town centre retail areas, St Helens Council has also pledged to only consider hot food takeaways based on the need for passing trade, the extent of window display and the impact on the character of existing properties.
Councillors agreed that there was a need to protect retail areas from hot food “takeaway clusters”, which are perceived to have an adverse effect on shopping centres.
Maria Michaels, owner of Georges Plaice in Westfield Street, said: “I think the council should have brought this in earlier. If you go down Thatto Heath Road, for example, half of the shops are takeaways. There’s too many.
“It’s very difficult for takeaways to survive in the current climate anyway, but when we’re flooded with competition it’s even harder.
“I think there’s been a cultural shift away from home cooking, which is why so many kids eat fast food.”
Michael Constantinou, of the Village Chip Shop in Rainford, agreed: “I think it’s a good thing for every current chip shop owner. It’s just common sense, because there’s already lots of places to eat in St Helens.”
Another St Helens takeaway owner, who asked not to be named, admitted that there are some local schoolchildren who take gorging on fast food “too far”.