Relationship between food environment and planning system: research summary

Summary of research responding to the question 'How can the planning system best support the creation of an improved food environment in Scotland?'.

2 Introduction

2.1 Introduction

2.1.1 Ironside Farrar was commissioned by the Building Standards Division (BSD) of the Scottish Government on behalf of Planning and Architecture Division (PAD) to complete this research project to explore the relationship between the food environment and the planning system. The research is intended to help meet the Scottish Government’s commitments to the food environment made within the 2017/18 Programme for Government and ‘A Healthier Future’ consultation paper. The evidence provided by the research will inform the next version of the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy.

2.2 Background

2.2.1 The Scottish Government consultation ‘A Healthier Future’ identified Scotland’s obesity rates as amongst the highest in the developed world. This brings with it associated problems of significant costs to our health services and the economy from increasing numbers of people with chronic ill-health and being too ill to work.

2.2.2 The key problem identified in the consultation paper was the excessive consumption of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar. The aim of the consultation was to inform the development of a policy and legislative approach to reduce the public health harm associated with excess weight, poor diet and low levels of physical activity. The Scottish Government wants everyone in Scotland to eat as well as possible, encouraging a healthy weight and diet across the population. Improving the food environment was highlighted as critical to this aim. The consultation is clear that a wide range of regulatory and other actions are needed to make healthier choices easier wherever we eat.

2.2.3 Scottish Planning Policy (2014) is clear that the planning system has a vital role to play in delivering high-quality places for Scotland, in support of the Scottish Government’s Purpose of creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth. Scottish Planning Policy sets out the important role that good buildings and places play in promoting healthy, sustainable lifestyles. It is clear that planning should take a positive approach to enabling high-quality development and making efficient use of land to deliver long-term benefits for the public while protecting and enhancing natural and cultural resources. Through statutory development plans, the planning system sets a vision and policies to improve places and provide opportunities for people. The planning system also makes decisions on whether to approve or refuse individual planning applications for development. Those decisions are based on the policies of the development plan.

2.2.4 The planning system as a whole works towards the following vision shared by National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy:

“We live in a Scotland with a growing, low carbon economy with progressively narrowing disparities in well-being and opportunity. It is growth that can be achieved whilst reducing emissions and which respects the quality of environment, place and life which makes our country so special. It is growth which increases solidarity – reducing inequalities between our regions. We live in sustainable, well-designed places and homes which meet our needs. We enjoy excellent transport and digital connections, internally and with the rest of the world.”

2.2.5 The consultation ‘A Healthier Future’ recognises the opportunity for the planning system to contribute to an improved food environment with the following commitment:

“We will research precedent, evidence and good practice on the relationship between the planning system and food environment, including exploring how food outlets in the vicinity of schools can be better controlled, with a view to informing the review of Scottish Planning Policy”

2.2.6 This commitment supports the Scottish Government’s 2017-18 Programme for Government which states:

“We will … explore how food outlets in the vicinity of schools can be better controlled…”

2.2.7 The Scottish Government’s ‘Places, People and Planning – Position Statement’ provides an update on the Scottish Government’s on-going reform of the planning system. It states that Scottish Planning Policy is anticipated to be reviewed from 2018, with publication in 2020.

2.3 Aims and Objectives

2.3.1 The aim of this research project is to respond to the question ‘How can the planning system best support the creation of an improved food environment in Scotland?’

2.3.2 The objectives of the project, and the section in which those objectives are addressed in this research paper, are set out as follows:

Table 1: Research Objectives


Sections Addressing Objectives


Identify what are considered to be key characteristics of a good food environment from the perspective of the planning system in Scotland.

Section 3.2.


Identify whether the number (density) of particular shops or outlets in a place is a problem for creating an improved food environment.

Section 3.3 and 3.8.


Identify the degree to which the area around schools in Scotland is considered to be a bad food environment or is protected from becoming one.

Section 3.4 and 3.6.


Summarise key research and practice to concisely describe how the planning system in Scotland and other countries currently interacts with the food environment.

Section 3.2 to 3.8.


Identify examples of both effective and the less effective planning policies which target the aim of ‘How can the planning system best support the creation of an improved food environment in Scotland.

Section 3.8 and 4.0.

2.4 Research Methods

2.4.1 The outputs from this research will inform the Scottish Government’s position on the role of the planning system in controlling and creating an improved food environment.

2.4.2 The Research Methodology evolved as the project progressed due to the nature of research available, Table 1 outlines the methodology applied. It was originally anticipated that a questionnaire would be circulated to local authorities in Scotland to ascertain the Scottish approach to controlling and/or improving the food environment around schools, but this was deemed unnecessary due to the lack of policy or guidance in this area.

2.4.3 A Steering Group was established and provided advice and input to the Research Team. It was agreed with the client that constructive engagement with the Steering Group removed the need for a Stakeholder Workshop. Members of the Steering Group were:

  • Stephanie Chambers (Research Fellow, Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow);
  • Jill Muirie (Public Health Programme Manager, Glasgow Centre for Population Health);
  • Heather Peace (Head of Public Health Nutrition, Food Standards Scotland);
  • Christopher Russell (Scottish Government, Population Health Directorate); and
  • Simon Bonsall (Scottish Government Planning and Architecture Division).

Table 2: Methodology



Stage 1


  • Met with Client Group to discuss and agree programme of work, main aims, strategic vision and work programme.

Stage 2

Literature Review

  • Comprehensive review of the available literature to form an in depth understanding of how planning systems, including a review of UK wide and other relevant international examples, currently interact with the food environment.
  • Summarise key research and practice meeting the project aim on how the planning system can best support the creation of an improved food environment, and establish an understanding, through research and analysis of the project objectives.
  • First Draft of Literature Review and Bibliography issued to Steering Group for comment and additional research and policy identified and incorporated into reporting.

Stage 3

Draft Policy Analysis and Review

  • Analysis of planning policy and guidance that looks to control the food environment and consideration of the effectiveness of such policy in practice.

Stage 4

Written Report

  • Draft of the report issued to Client and Steering Group for comment.
  • Final version of the review for approval and finalisation by the Client Group. The output to be a written report covering the aims and objectives of this project, including an executive summary and conclusions and interpretation of information where relevant.

2.5 Report Structure

2.5.1 The report is structured as follows:

Section 3 Literature Review

Section 4 Policy Analysis

Section 5 Conclusions


Email: Simon Bonsall

Back to top