Irish Heart call for ’no fry zones’ as school loses bid to stop McDonalds restaurant

Update: Responding to a court decision to reject a challenge to a McDonald’s drive through fast-food restaurant being opened near a school in Greystones, the advocacy group Irish Heart have called for new legislation to protect children’s health by introducing no fry zones.

Chris Macey, head of advocacy with the group said the judgment highlights the need for new legislation to protect children’s health by introducing no fry zones, restricting hot food takeaways within one kilometre of primary and secondary schools.

“Already 75% of Irish schools have at least one and 30% have at least five fast food outlets within one kilometre of their front gates. Today’s ruling shows that current planning laws give carte blanche to fast food restaurants to open as many outlets as they like in the vicinity of our schools.

“We are calling on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Eoghan Murphy to take decisive action to safeguard children’s health by drawing up legislation to prevent any further deterioration in this already unacceptable situation,” Mr Macey said.

Earlier: A secondary school has lost its challenge over planning permission obtained by McDonalds for a drive through fast-food restaurant less than 100 metres from the school’s front entrance and sports grounds, writes Ann O’Loughlin.

Temple Carraig school’s board of management had claimed McDonalds Restaurants Ireland Ltd chose the location at Blacklion, Greystones, co Wicklow because it is close to the school, and two other schools, Gaelscoil Na Clohca Liatha and Greystones Educate Together, which between them cater for 1,800 students.

It challenged a September 30th 2015 decision by An Bord Pleanála approving a development comprising a McDonalds restaurant, health and fitness studio and commercial unit at the Blacklion Neighburhood Centre.

While the school may take some comfort from the fact McDonalds appears, "for now, at least", to have lost interest in proceeding with the restaurant, and it presently seems more likely a supermarket will be developed on the site, the school’s concern is the permission McDonalds obtained remains in being, Mr Justice Max Barrett said.

The school decided to proceed with its case due to concerns the "pendulum of commerce may yet swing again" and a fast-food restaurant unwanted by the board may yet be built close to the school, he said.

The school did not consider having a fast-food restaurant almost on its doorstep "is conducive to healthy eating by impressionable children going to and from the school".

While many would instinctively answer "no" if asked whether it is a good idea to place an "alluring" fast-food restuarant close by a school entrance, that was not the issue in the case, the judge stressed.

The issue was whether An Bord Plenala erred in how it made its decision and the court’s conclusion was it had not erred in any of the ways alleged and did all that was required of it under the Planning and Development Act 2000.

He found no error in the Board’s decision to grant permission, by a four to one majority, generally in accordance with recommendations of its inspector.

He dismissed claims the Board failed to meet obligations under the Act to "have regard to" Government policies and objectives concerninh the health of children.

The statutory obligation to "have regard to" government policies and objectives "means just that" and does not, for example, entail an obligaiton to follow such polcies and objectives, he said.

The Board was required to fully inform itself about, and reasonably consider, such poliices and objectives, he said.

The Board clearly understood there was an issue whether having a fast-food restaurant close to a school was counter-productive in terms of encouraging healthy eating by pupils, he found.

There are also "only so many ways" one can assert the need for chidren to "eat healthy in order to be healthy", he added.

The inspector had had regard in his report to the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, the judge noted.

The fact the inspector did not expressly refer to another document touching on childhood obesity, the Healthy Ireland Strategy of March 2013, could not amount to a breach by the Board, which largely endorsed the inspector’s report, of the relevant provisions of the Act.

The inspector also undertook a stage one screening of the planning application and decided a stage two approriate assesment was not required, the judge noted.

The Board was not, despite what the school contended, required to "itself" conduct the stage one screening or to itself decide a stage two appropriate assessment was not necessary.

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