Tuesday, May 09, 2006


For 60 years the tinny jingle of Greensleeves that announced the arrival of the ice-cream van has been an indelible memory of childhood, but that sound may soon be removed from suburban streets. Health lobbyists have decided that ice-creams are too much of a danger to children's health.

MPs and health officials are planning a series of measures across the country that are already forcing Mr Whippy and his helpers into meltdown. Under an amendment to the Education and Inspection Bill to be put forward this week, local authorities will be given new powers to stop ice-cream vans from operating near school gates. The move comes as operators claim that they are already being forced out of business by an over-zealous health lobby.

Local authorities have in recent weeks banned ice-cream vans from using pay-and-display parking spaces and set up "ice-cream-free"exclusion zones around busy shopping streets. Newham council, in east London, informed vendors last month that it would fine van owners up to o80 if they used pay-and-display bays. Greenwich council, in southeast London, has banned the vans from its streets altogether, while in Scotland, West Dunbartonshire council has introduced an exclusion zone around schools for vans.

Mark Gossage, the director of Ice Cream Alliance that represented 20,000 van owners in the 1960s and now has 700 members, said that many of his members can no longer make a living. "Many schools have already stopped arrangements for vans to sell to pupils," he said. "They are wiping us out."

There are about 5,000 ice-cream vans in Britain. In times gone by they would have parked at the side of most roads; but times have changed. The amendment would grant local authorities the power to ban ice-cream vans from parking near schools. One dietitian told The Times that a ban on ice-cream vans near schools would be a draconian policy that may drive children to buy even less healthy foods at nearby shops. Catherine Collins, the chief dietitian at St George's Hospital, Tooting, south London, said: "This is the kind of blanket ban that gives the health lobby a bad name. A healthy diet can factor in a sugary treat such as an ice-cream. It is the frequency of that treat that is an issue. Most choices from an ice-cream van would provide fewer calories and fat compared to a free choice from a newsagent."

Horse-drawn vans selling flavoured ices were first seen on cobbled streets in the 19th century. Motorised vans followed in the 1950s, selling hard, scooped or soft ice-cream. By the 1980s the business had become so lucrative that gangs fought over the right to sell to certain streets. In 1984 a row between Glasgow-based gangs led to the murder of six members of the Doyle family, who had run the Marchetti ice-cream company. The sector has since declined because of the availability of ice-creams from shops and garages. The few vendors left said last week they would be out of business if the amendment was passed.

John Barrowclough, whose Iced Treats van stops outside schools around Wolverhampton, said he had been forced to sell one of his two vans. because of a clampdown. "We sell a lot of ice-creams near schools," he said. "Of course no one wants to see fat kids, but most children have an ice-cream once a week, not every day." Sefer Huseyin, whose family have run Five Star Catering ice-cream vans in Camberwell, southeast London, since the 1960s, said that his vans had been banned from schools. "Telling vendors they are not allowed near schools is the wrong message," he said. "They have been going there for years and their livelihood is being taken away from them."

However, the amendment is supported by some health campaigners. Chris Waterman, the executive director of the Confederation of Education and Children's Services Managers, said ice-cream vans should be restricted. "There are millions going into healthy food in schools, yet kids are rushing to spend their money on food from mobile vans," he said. [Odd that!]


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