A project such as mydeptfordhighstreet.com (see previous post) may help draw attention to a less desirable aspect of our main shopping mall – the over population of betting shops.
The Deptford Dame has recently posted about the Mayor's call for planning controls over betting shops. Boris has finally joined the cross party campaign spearheaded by his rival Ken Livingstone (and Livingstone's campaign manager, David Lammy MP), and other Labour MPs such as our own Ms Ruddock, to change the national planning law to help control the proliferation and clustering of betting shops.
According to the BBC, the Green Party's Darren Johnson says Boris had dodged taking action when he replied to a question from the Greens in a May 2010 London Assembly meeting, preferring to offer the same excuse for inaction that the government and the betting industry has long been giving (that the issue can be dealt with by a local authority's own planning powers).
Boris told Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, that having so many bookies so close together could negatively affect the vitality and viability of town centres and the quality of life of those living nearby. "There is a balance to be struck between having betting shops as part of the high street retail mix and the negative impact they can have on shoppers and visitors when they start to dominate."
The bookies are reported to have reacted angrily to the news. A statement issued by the Association of British Bookmakers said that it was a myth that there had been a sharp rise in the number of betting shops in London. Meanwhile, the ABB, along with William Hill and Ladbrokes are lobbying the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee to remove the limit on the number of Fixed Odd Betting Terminals allowed in their shops. In July 2011 they presented written evidence to the Committee's review of the Gambling Act, saying that betting shops "support the vibrancy and footfall of the high street and pay a higher level of tax" and urging them to "mitigate against the heavy tax and regulatory burden that Licensed Betting Offices face". Despite evidence to the contrary, the ABB did not accept there was any widespread problem with minors gambling in their members' premises, nor that problem gambling was an issue. They also requested a liberalisation in the maximum permitted number of gaming machines since "there is no evidence to link them to problem gambling." (www.parliament.uk)
The ABB boast that the industry voluntarily donates £5m a year towards helping fund the education, research and treatment of problem gambling. Small fry when Betfred, to name but one corporate tax dodger in this industry, turn over £3.5bn and recently paid £265m for the Tote (and their online gambling business, growing at a rate of 80%, is based in Gibraltar to avoid tax).
Whilst the industry was lying and whining to the Select Committee in July, Joan Ruddock presented a bill to the House of Commons proposing to change the planning class of betting shops and allow councils to place a cap on the number of them in any area. Ideally they would be taken out of the A2 Financial Services and put into a class of their own. Joan told the Commons that "a turf war is now under way, as bookmakers, including new entrants, seek to seize a market share." (See our post in July, Joan speaks for Deptford). The ABB said in response, "Extra regulation on our industry would be wholly disproportionate. Local authorities are already able to have their say on betting shops through the licensing process. Under the Gambling Act, councils have the power to decline licensing applications where there is hard evidence that a bookmaker would have a negative impact in a community."
All lies, damn lies. As we have already seen with Betfred, Paddy Power et al, the Licensing Law as enshrined in the 2005 Gambling Act was written by bookies for bookies, and no local authority dares to turn them down. It is only at the planning stage that councils can wield any power – but only if a Change of Use is being applied for. If the premises was already classed as A2 (be it a pub or a bank), planning can do very little except request modifications to shopfronts and signage. The industry is prepared to bankrupt local authorities in constant appeals whenever a decision goes against them.
In the unusual case of Betfred in Deptford High Street (where there was already a condition placed on its A2 useage), the planners could turn them down; they then appealed to the government inspector and lost, and are now trying again, no doubt in the hope that when they are turned down and appeal again, they will get a different inspector – who may let them through. They have enough resources to try and try again, wasting vast sums of public money in the process.
Please write an objection. See the application DC/11/78506/X and Betfred's covering letter here.