Hackney calls for people to have their say on betting shops consultation
Hackney Council has welcomed government proposals to grant councils more control over betting shops, but warns they don’t go far enough and is calling on people to make their voices heard.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a public consultation on planning reform which asks whether gambling firms should have to get planning permission to open a betting shop. Currently they can open a high street branch in a range of premises without needing approval from anyone.
However, the proposals would still mean one brand of betting shop could take over another’s premises without needing permission, leaving councils powerless to address areas where bookies have already clustered.
The betting shops element of this consultation represents a real victory for Hackney and local government and demonstrates what councils can achieve when they unite for a cause. Hackney Council has long been calling on government to give us the tools to tackle the blight of bookies in our high streets. At last ministers have listened to the overwhelming weight of public and council opinion, citing the Hackney-led campaign in its reasoning.
“What we need to do now is make sure this weight of opinion is reflected in the consultation process. It’s crucial we remain united as we should be in no doubt the powerful gambling lobby will do its best to water down these proposals. As well as Hackney Council itself submitting a formal consultation response, we will be encouraging local residents and organisations to make their voices heard too.
“For too many years councils have been powerless to stop the proliferation and clustering of betting shops, their parent companies often cynically targeting deprived communities. Our campaigning has never been about banning betting shops, it’s about giving councils and the people they represent the ability to strike the right balance for their high streets. As such, the Government’s current proposals don’t go far enough as we would still be left powerless to address areas where bookies have already clustered.
There are about 65 betting shops in Hackney, with eight on one street alone. A report published by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling in February found £16.5 million was lost to fixed odds terminals across the borough last year.
Under existing guidelines betting shops are classed 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.
Hackney Council has lobbied successive governments over the past seven years to give councils and their residents a greater say on applications for betting shops.
In February this year it submitted a proposal to government under the Sustainable Communities Act to give betting shops their own planning class, as with nightclubs and casinos. This would mean gambling firms would have to apply for permission to open a new branch and residents and councillors could have a say. The submission has cross-party support from all London boroughs and 35 councils outside the capital. Mayor Pipe also wrote to Planning Minister Nick Boles asking for the change and an online petition was set up so people could show their support for the proposals.
Government has now proposed this change in its two-month consultation and included pay day loan companies alongside betting shops. It asks: Do you agree that a planning application should be required for any change of use to a betting shop or a pay day loan shop?
For more information on the Government's consultation and a guide on how to take part, visit www.hackney.gov.uk/beatthebookies.