- Eric Pickles MPSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Help councils stop betting shops taking over our high streets
The proliferation and clustering of betting shops is getting out of hand. There are about 65 in Hackney, with eight on one street alone, and it’s an issue across the country.
Many are cynically targeting deprived communities, feeding off vulnerable people, fuelling addictions and other problems and adding to the difficulties of already hard-pressed families. At their worst, the same company will open several branches in the same area to get around rules on the number of fixed odds betting terminals allowed per shop.
A report published by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling this month found almost £1.5 billion was lost in fixed odds terminals across England last year, with £16.5 million drained from the pockets of Hackney residents alone.
Betting shops also sap the vibrancy and variety from our high streets, damage local economies and squeeze out potential enterprises which could use the premises for something positive and constructive.
In most instances councils are powerless to stop betting shops from opening and their residents have no opportunity to have a say.
This is because existing guidelines class them as A2 - ‘financial and professional services’, meaning they can open up without planning permission in premises which previously housed such a venture, for example a bank, estate agent or employment agency. Planning rules also state an A2 class can open without permission in an existing A3, A4 and A5 premises, expanding the field further to include pubs, restaurants, cafes and hot food takeaways.
Government deregulation expected in May will make it even easier for gambling firms by removing the need to apply for permission to take over an even wider range of premises, meaning no say whatsoever for local residents in most cases.
We believe that councils and the communities they serve should have a say on what businesses fill their high streets.
Thankfully there is an easy solution.
Hackney Council has made a submission to government under the Sustainable Communities Act asking that betting shops be given their own planning class, as with nightclubs and casinos. Our submission has received cross-party support from boroughs across London and 35 councils outside the capital.
This would mean residents and councillors could have a say over every application, and the potential impact a new betting shop may have on an area would become a key factor on whether or not it gets approved.
We are not alone in our concern and have support for our proposals, including from the Government’s own high streets tsar.
The Deloitte Customer Review survey published in January found 52 per cent of people wanted fewer betting shops in their high streets, compared with just 6 per cent wanting more. Guardian research from the same month demonstrated a direct link between areas of deprivation and spend on gambling.
A London Assembly report last year found a 13 per cent increase in betting shops across London between January 2010 and December 2012, concluding government should amend planning legislation to give local communities more control.
The independent Mary Portas review into high streets, commissioned by this government in 2011, also concluded betting shops should be given their own use class, stating they are "blighting our high streets", while a Local Government Association report found clusters of betting shops harmed local economies.
Government has in the past suggested that a technical planning tool called an Article 4 Direction gives councils sufficient powers over betting shop applications. However, this has proven not to be the case by councils trying to use it.
We’re hoping this petition will convince government of the overwhelming weight of public opinion that local people should have more say on what opens in their high streets.
The more people who sign up, the better we can make our case for change.
- Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Eric Pickles MP
Give betting shops their own use class.
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