ACTION is needed to stop the relentless rise of takeaways in a borough which has become saturated with unhealthy food outlets, councillors have claimed, as a plan for a further takeaway was approved.

Darlington Borough Council’s planning committee heard a gap in the authority’s planning policy meant anyone proposing to launch a fast food shop could do so unchallenged on health grounds, even in places where it was considered there was a clear need to do so.

As councillors considered a plan for a takeaway on Neasham Road, councillors were told their decision could only be based on matters such as its visual impact and highway safety, despite there being a clear obesity issue for residents in the surrounding Bank Top ward.

The meeting heard residents’ objections to the plan included concerns over the number of takeaways in the area and the sale of unhealthy food. Despite obesity having being raised as a major issue by councillors and residents ahead of the meeting, when the agent for applicant Kuldip Singh was asked about the type of food that would be served he said he had no idea.

Bank Top councillor Wendy Newall emphasised there was a high number of takeaways in the area, adding: “We wonder about the need for a further takeaway.”

She challenged officers claims that there was insufficient evidence that obesity a significant issue in the area saying residents near the proposed takeaway had among the worst health outcomes and life expectancy in the borough.

The meeting heard while there was a primary school nearby, there was no secondary school nearby, whose pupils were more likely to visit the takeaway.

Several councillors called on the council to tackle the proliferation of fast food outlets in some areas of the borough, but its planning development manager David Coates said it was difficult for councils to effectively limit takeaway numbers on health grounds.

He said other councils had lost a high proportion of appeals by potential takeaway owners after having their plans refused, adding that the authority was aware there were obesity issues in the ward which had the highest Covid death rate in the borough.

He said: “If someone chooses to eat takeaways seven days a week, that is a behavioural issue that the planning process can’t control.”

He added people could call for a takeaway from their couch, wherever the shop was located.

Members highlighted numerous policies that other councils had used to limit takeaway shops.

Councillor Steven Tait added while major fast food chains prevented children from ordering deliveries, independent outlets did not, adding: “There will be a passing trade element for this shop and that passing trade will be children, teenagers. They will go in and get their chips and kebabs.”

The authority’s children and young people’s portfolio holder Councillor Jon Clarke said: “It’s quite obvious that Darlington is saturated with takeaways at the moment. It’s something that we clearly need to look at.”