Burger van owners claim ban infringes human rights

Five burger van vendors are taking a local council to court over North Lanarkshire council's decision to prevent them from selling food to pupils. Picture: TSPL

Five burger van vendors are taking a local council to court over North Lanarkshire council's decision to prevent them from selling food to pupils. Picture: TSPL

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THEY are a source of hearty lunchtime fare that are not to the tastes of councillors, though children may disagree.

Now, a group of burger van owners are hoping to flip a ban which prevents them doing business outside the schools in one of Scotland’s largest local authority areas.

In an unprecedented legal challenge which could have repercussions across the country, the five small business owners claim their human rights, as well as those of their young customers, have been infringed by North Lanarkshire Council’s exclusion zone.

The policy prohibits fast food vans from trading within a 250-metre radius of the region’s 160 schools as part of the council’s effort to combat childhood obesity.

However, Karen McCluskey, Stephen Kerr, Patricia Hardie, Annmarie Pratt and Caroline Kane have raised a case at Hamilton Sheriff Court to reverse the ban. If successful, it could place similar schemes nationwide in doubt and see lengthy queues form outside vans by school gates for the likes of cheeseburgers, chips and bacon rolls.

The ban was introduced last year after Jim Logue, convener of North Lanarkshire’s learning and leisure committee, said the authority had a “moral duty” to do everything in its power to safeguard children’s health.

Until then, Ms McCluskey and Mr Kerr ran a van near Bellshill Academy, while Ms Hardie and Ms Kane operated close to Wishaw’s St Aidan’s High and St Andrew’s High in Coatbridge.

At a civil hearing yesterday, Scott Blair QC, representing the van owners, said other factors had to be taken into account when ascertaining whether the ban was legally binding.

“Everybody has the right to choose what kind of food they want to put into their body, no matter how healthy or undesirable that food may be,” he said. “Those under 16 may well be influenced by what their parents eat but everybody has a choice as to what they want to eat.

“There may be nutritional guidelines on school meals but pupils have the right to choose to bring food in from outside the school.”

Ms Kane said her van had been a fixture in Coatbridge for a quarter of a century without complaint, but issues with serving children only arose after the new high school was built near her pitch eight years ago.

The 45-year-old said: “There is no way that snack vans can be the only cause of obesity given that cafes, chip shops, takeaways and places like McDonald’s and KFC are all selling stuff at lunch times to school kids and they aren’t being banned by the council.”

Six years ago, Glasgow City Council introduced a 300-metre ban for vans, followed by East Ayrshire Council, which rolled out its own 250-metre exclusion zone.

A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said it would be inappropriate to comment.

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