Last month, our appeal-wary planning department were obliged to give permission for Change of Use to the fourth pawnbroker on Deptford High Street. Abermarle & Bond's new premises is opposite Ladbrokes, William Hill, and another pawnbroker, The Money Shop. It is quite near Paddy Power and Better, and not far from three other pawnbrokers – in fact there will now be four pawnbrokers within 50 metres of each other.
However, as the Dame recently pointed out, Lewisham Planning did not grant permission for them to change the shopfront, and asked them to apply separately for this. But barely a day had passed after Change of Use was granted (from Sui Generis to A1 Retail) before Abermarle & Bond had set about refurbishing the shop. The shop is almost ready to open (the picture above was taken last week). The target date for their application to be decided is 27th December 2011, but a new shop front is already in place – in time to cash in on the Christmas trade.
The applicant's flagrant disregard for local planning rules is also demonstrated by the distribution of leaflets in the local neighbourhood which confirm the fact that they are first and foremost a Financial Service and NOT a retail outlet: "Say NO THANKS to banks" "Quick cash loans" "No hassle and no credit checks" APR: 581.9%.
Pawnbrokers are classed as A1 Retail as long as the other services they offer (cheque cashing and pay day loans) remain ancillary to the main use as pawnbrokers/jewellers. But selling jewellery is now a small part of the service since people are selling and pawning their gold rather than buying it.
The Telegraph reported four days ago that Abermarle & Bond said the value of gold it had bought off customers had increased by 83%, adding that the market for retailing gold jewellery remained very weak. It continued to prefer to scrap second hand jewellery if this generated a better return on capital.
Cash loans on jewellery are often third on an advertised list of services, after Pay Day Loans and Speed Loans. Pawnbrokers are no longer simply a place to get a quick cash loan on some jewellery or prized possession, but have instead become extremely aggressive loan sharks. They are part of the cycle of poverty, and not, as they claim, any part of the solution – since a high interest loan can easily spiral out of control, especially when the lender is situated in the immediate vicinity of bookmakers. Abermarle & Bond's advertising "Want instant cash now? YOU BET" is a not very subtle nudge.
Pawnbrokers are also extremely poorly regulated and monitored, hence their nickname "robber's shops" (no pun intended) – who knows where the gold they are buying has come from? And they inevitably set up shop in poor areas where there is a desperate need for cash and people have no credit ratings. Abermarle & Bond's financing is by Speedloan Finance, a sub-prime small loans company specialising in making loans to people who have difficulty maintaining repayment schedules.
We need better alternatives to banks and better solutions to debt management than this new breed of pawnbroker can provide. Like the betting industry, the corporate pawnbrokers are set on a massive expansion in – or, rather invasion of – Britain's poorer high streets, aiming to make huge profits from the recession.
Their present DUBIOUS planning class as A1 Retail (because they sell jewellery) allows them to pop up wherever they like – usually next to bookmakers (for obvious reasons). Local authorities across the country are unable to turn them down in the shopping areas they have designated to be RETAIL ONLY (that is, not Financial Services).
Joan Ruddock MP is leading the fight to stop the corporate Betting Shops by attempting to introduce a Bill to give them a Planning Class of their own. The same should be done to curb the invasion of sub-prime loan sharks masquerading as jewellers. Write to your MP now!
See previous post on Abermarle & Bond here.