Betting shops boom worries councils

Councils say betting shops can be linked to anti-social behaviour and have reached "saturation" in many areas

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Councils in England and Wales are calling for more powers to limit the number of High Street betting shops.

A Local Government Association representative told MPs: "At the moment, numbers cannot be restricted and this results in crime, disorder and misery for local people."

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman also said they were "blighting" areas.

However, the Association of British Bookmakers said numbers had remained stable for the past decade.

LGA chairman of the environment and housing board David Parsons appealed to the Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday for councils to have more powers "to stop betting shops setting up if they are likely to cause a public nuisance".

'Reckless gamble'

"Costly planning rules which are tying up councils from acting at the moment must also be addressed. These concerns are shared widely and this problem is not limited to disadvantaged areas.

"We are seeing a reckless gamble with our High Streets which is contributing to higher policing and health costs in addition to reducing the quality of life for local residents."

Councils say betting shops, which often stay open in the evening, can be linked to anti-social behaviour and they say many areas have reached "saturation".

Start Quote

The lives of many of the people in those areas are also blighted by the problem gambling that they exacerbate.”

End Quote Harriet Harman Labour deputy leader

One street in Hackney, east London, has eight betting shops and concerns have been raised in Southall, west London, where there are 18.

For planning purposes, they are classified as providing "financial services".

That means, if a bank branch closes, a betting shop can sometimes open on the premises unchallenged.

The Association of British Bookmakers says its businesses offer a "fun leisure product", and bring much needed investment to the High Street.

Any new national regulations would be "wholly unwarranted", it said.

Chief executive Dirk Vennix said: "Betting shop numbers have remained stable at about 8,500 over the past decade, down from over 15,000 at the end of the 1960s.

"There are more betting shops specifically on high streets than there used to be, but this only reflects the fact that bookmakers are modern retail businesses offering a fun leisure product to adults who choose to use it."

'Dramatic proliferation'

Also on Tuesday, Ms Harman - Labour's deputy leader - published a report claiming the industry uses "predatory" practices that are "destroying" neighbourhood shopping areas.

Her research suggested there had been a "dramatic proliferation" of betting shops in deprived areas.

In her London constituency of Camberwell and Peckham there are now more than 70 bookmakers and Licensed Betting Offices, while Tottenham has 39 bookmakers but not a single bookshop, the study suggested.

She said she had asked retail guru Mary Portas, who is studying the future of the British High Street for the government, to discuss the issue in her constituency.

Ms Harman says: "High streets in low income areas across the UK are blighted by the prevalence of bookmakers.

"The lives of many of the people in those areas are also blighted by the problem gambling that they exacerbate.

"There must be the right protection in place for our high streets and vulnerable communities."

Last month, London Mayor Boris Johnson called for a change in national planning law to curb the spread of betting shops.

Operators should have to obtain planning permission to trade, he said.

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