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Beat the bookies

Hackney Council is stepping up its campaign against the uncontrolled spread of betting shops across the borough.

Many are cynically targeting deprived communities, feeding off vulnerable people, fuelling addiction and other problems and adding to the difficulties of already hard-pressed families.

They also sap the vibrancy and variety from our high streets, damage local economies and squeeze out potential enterprises which could use the premises for positive and constructive purposes.

In most instances councils are powerless to stop betting shops from opening and their residents have no opportunity to have a say.

With cross-party support from boroughs across London, as well as from 35 councils outside the capital, Hackney has submitted a request to government asking for councils, and the residents they serve, to be given a say on applications from gambling firms wanting to open a betting shop.

It has also launched an online petition to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for residents and businesses nationwide to sign and show their support.

Sign the petition

What needs to change

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 enterprise 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.

Hackney Council has made a submission to government (PDF, 40KB) under the Sustainable Communities Act asking that betting shops be given their own planning class, as with nightclubs and casinos. 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.

The evidence

There are about 65 betting shops in Hackney, with eight on Mare Street alone.

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.

The 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.

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Page updated: 26 Feb 2014 

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