RESTAURANT owners say they are "disappointed and angry" at what they say is St Helens Council’s "outdated" policy which could potentially prevent them from opening a takeaway.

Little Italy on Ormskirk Road has gone from strength to strength offering traditional Italian food at the popular eatery since its launch in 2022.

Fabio, Francesco and Valerio Cangemi are no strangers to the restaurant scene as their parents established Bella Roma on George Street, St Helens with the trio taking over the business as they became adults before selling up in 2017 – citing declining town centre footfall as the cause.

St Helens Star: Francesco, Valerio and Fabio Cangemi and some Little Italy dishes

However, the brothers always wanted to pick up their restaurant roots when the right place became available, and with Rainford’s growing independent business sector they felt that their new spot on Ormskirk Road was the perfect spot.

Due to its popularity, the trio have had to start offering takeaway options at the restaurant.

But with limited ability due to the size of the kitchen and not wanting to impact sit-in customers, they decided to further invest in the community by opening a takeaway down the same road.

Little Italy Express would offer the same traditional Mediterranean meals. They have already invested heavily in the business, spending £12,000 on a traditional pizza oven alone.

However, they have been told by St Helens Council that the venue falls foul of planning rules due it being within 400 metres of a primary school.

St Helens Star: The site of Little Italy Express further down the same road from the restaurant The site of Little Italy Express further down the same road from the restaurant (Image: nq)

The brothers – who all live in St Helens with their families – have been left disheartened and infuriated by the rules.

The council’s rationale for the issues has been the venue's classification as a ‘takeaway’ –  which the brothers were they needed to apply for to open up the new venture - that would be so close to a school.

Valerio Cangemi, 38, who lives in Sutton, said: “We have been doing so well with the restaurant that we decided to open a place purposefully offering our menu as take-out options only to cater to the growing demand.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on the venture which is in a former tearooms and we were told due to the change of service we had to apply - at a cost – to become a takeaway as there is not a lot of room for people to eat in.

“We did this and have since been told there will be issues as even though we will only be opening from 4.30pm to 10pm – which is after the nearby school Corpus Christi closes – as it's within 400m of the school.

St Helens Star: Some of the food on offer at Little ItalySome of the food on offer at Little Italy (Image: NQ)

“The school is a primary school so children cannot leave during school hours anyway and we do not intend to operate during that time.

“It seems like the takeaway category we fit in means we are classed as unhealthy – despite the Mediterranean diet being one of the healthiest in the world.”

Fabio Cangemi, 35, who lives in Windle, said they were "incredibly disappointed and angry" that the rules could hit their plans, especially after they have invested money in the venture.

He described the policy as "outdated".

Fabio said: “We’ve got it under good authority that the policy is being reviewed as a whole but we are a family who have lived in St Helens for many years, we all have our own families here and have invested again only for this issue to come up when we are trying to do something positive.

St Helens Star: Some of the food on offer at Little ItalySome of the food on offer at Little Italy (Image: NQ)

“This policy does not take into account businesses like ours that strive to offer healthier options for their customers. It also limits consumer choice and stifles local economic growth by preventing us from expanding our services.

“We have support from the ARTS Independent Specialist School stating that they are in support of us, and Corpus Christi have confirmed that they are staying neutral but don’t see potential issues suggested by the council in respect to our venue and the kids of foods we serve.

“We have requested from other eateries with big names information on the food on offer and the nutritional value and we are offering one of the healthiest menus in Rainford, and in St Helens.

“We are willing to discuss options with the council but their rationale for potentially knocking back the application – we feel and most of Rainford feel – is completely wrong and needs reviewing.”

St Helens Star: Valerio and Fabio Cangemi outside their restaurant

A St Helens Borough Council spokesperson said: “Local independent businesses are the heartbeat of our town centres and villages across the borough, and we look to encourage, support and advise them where we can, whether established, new or aspiring.

“In regard to the new business venture in Rainford, our planning service - in line with the council’s customer experience commitment - proactively contacted the applicant at the end of last month to highlight concerns with their application, advising that it doesn’t comply with policy set out in our Local Plan, adopted in 2022, to prevent hot food takeaways from opening within 400 metres of a school or college as part of our ongoing efforts to reduce childhood obesity.

“The planning application has not yet been determined and our planning service will continue to liaise directly with the applicant on determination of their submission.

“Once a formal decision has been made, a decision notice, along with reports setting out the detailed assessment of all material planning considerations will be published on the council website.”

Little Italy has started an online petition on the matter which has already garnered 797 signatures.

To sign the petition, go to