It is "risky" to oppose new takeaways to protect people's health because a town's Local Plan does not include it, councillors heard.

This lack of policy was branded a council "failure" by one councillor at a Darlington Borough Council planning committee meeting.

A plan to change a shop to a takeaway on Woodland Road, Cockerton sparked the debate on health.

Applicant Hussein Hassan said the business selling food like pizzas, parmos and kebabs until 11pm would provide employment.

There were letters from three objectors, including an adjoining fish and chip shop, with concerns about potential anti-social behaviour, noise, smell, disturbance, rubbish and saturation of takeaways.

Council planners recommended the change be approved as it was in a shop parade 45m away from homes.

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Councillor Eddie Heslop raised anti-social behaviour issues including bins set alight, drug-taking, gangs of youths and lack of CCTV.

He said there were already two pizza shops and eight takeaways in Cockerton.

Then he referred to the council's Childhood Healthy Weight Plan 2019-24 and its aim to "transform the environment" for healthier choices and lifestyles.

He added: "Over the past two years, I have been droning on about healthier food options and takeaways.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Eddie Heslop. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Eddie Heslop. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

"Basically I just can't understand how this meets any of the objectives."

He proposed refusing the plan as it did not fit the Healthy Weight Plan targets.

Principal planning officer Lisa Hutchinson said: "We don't have a Local Plan policy... to allow us to take this into account.

"That lack of a planning policy makes it very difficult to hook anything on in terms of a reason for refusal."

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Dave Coates, head of planning, development and environmental health, urged caution in light of this.

He said: "It may be quite a risky thing to do.

"I think an inspector would raise an eyebrow and say, 'where's your council policy which justifies you doing that?'

"The fact of the matter is, it's simply not there.

"Planning policy is all we can refer to."

He said it was not in the Local Plan - which sets out planning priorities until 2036 - because of a lack of evidence of a particular obesity problem.

He said the Childhood Healthy Weight Plan was "a worthy piece of work, but it doesn't or shouldn't direct our actions in relation to planning decisions".

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Cllr Heslop maintained the plan could be opposed on the grounds of health.

He said: "We have to start meeting the expectations that are in some of the glossy brochures.

"It can't be just words. These words matter."

Cllr Nick Wallis expressed frustration about healthy eating: "It's a matter that members of this committee have been talking about for the last three years.

"And yet we find ourselves with a Local Plan which means as a committee we are unable to take action.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Nick Wallis. Picture: Stuart Boulton.Cllr Nick Wallis. Picture: Stuart Boulton.

"It's a failure... frankly of the local authority.

"Were we not to approve, we could be faced with an empty unit."

Cllr Jon Clarke objected to Cllr Wallis "politicising this issue".

He said: "Can I just remind the councillor how many years that they were in power and nothing happened?"

The committee voted 7-2 to approve the plan.


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