Monday, June 24, 2019

Land use planning and nutrition

One of my ‘hobbies’ is to attend lectures and seminars arranged by various institutes within Oxford University. The standard format is for a world expert to introduce and issue or problem and suggest ‘solutions’ to an audience of academics, postgraduate students and smattering of the public.  Last week I was at a session on food and nutrition where the problem was graphically described by the data showing that a worrying majority of the UK population is buying too much of the wrong kind of foods, and consuming them in the wrong kinds of ways, causing harm to personal and societal health and wellbeing. 
This is in the context where, in theory, the right kinds of food is already available and could be prepared and consumed in the right quantities and in the right way. These practices would not only relieve the NHS from some of its greatest burdens (eg dealing with diabetes) but could also have positive impacts on agriculture/horticulture and the environment.
What made the discussion so interesting, if not unique, was the near complete absence of any agreement on the ‘answers’ to take forward into public policy.
In the desperate search for answers the contribution being made by the planning system is to limit (ie refuse) permission for new fast food shops within 400m from the gates of schools on the theory that this would limit the opportunity for school children to snack on burgers or fried chicken.  Research has shown that this measure is ineffective and should no longer be regarded as a ‘solution’.  There seems to be evidence that a ‘sugar tax’ might have some effect in reducing consumption and/or the quantity of sugar in food products but is unlikely to get where we need to in terms of dietary change.
As usual the only way to have any real and lasting effect is to take a systems approach and analyse the food system from ‘plough to plate’, taking into account that this might conclude that most if not all ploughing is unnecessary.  Taking this holistic view would show that land use planning could play a more effective role than in limiting the change of use of high street premises.  Some of these ‘answers’ appear in earlier blogs (eg January 2016   that relate to how land use planning could assist in a move away from industrial scale agriculture based on minimising human labour by substituting high and unsustainable levels of fossil fuel inputs, and enable food production under agroecological and agroforestry principles.  Food and nutrition are so important that a case could be made to actually increase the legal scope of the planning system.