Beat the bookies
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. Currently gambling firms can open a high street branch in a wide range of premises without needing to get permission from anyone.
What's the latest?
The government has launched a two-month consultation called 'Technical consultation on planning'. It closes on September 26.
It covers a wide range of planning issues, but crucially has a proposal to require gambling firms to apply for planning permission to open a new branch - something Hackney Council has long been calling for. Both individuals and organisations can respond to the consultation to give their support to this proposal, and having your say isn't as complicated as it first appears.
You can either complete a tick-box form or respond online. Once you've filled out your personal details you are asked to comment on technical questions split into six sections. If it's only betting shops you want to comment on you don't need to go through each section, just Section 2, 'Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth'. And you don't need to answer every question in this section.
If you are responding online solely about betting shops needing planning permission:
- Answer 'yes' when asked, 'Would you like to respond to the consultation on reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth?'
- Answer 'yes' to Question 2.9, '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?'
- Continue pressing 'next' until the remaining Section 2 questions are finished.
- Answer 'no' when asked if you want to comment on other sections.
What's the problem?
The proliferation and clustering of betting shops is getting out of hand. There are about 65 in Hackney, with eight on one street alone, and it's an issue across the country.
Many are cynically targeting deprived communities, feeding off vulnerable people, fuelling addictions and other problems and adding to the difficulties of already hard-pressed families. At their worst, the same company will open several branches in the same area to get around rules on the number of fixed odds betting terminals allowed per shop.
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.
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 this year 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.
In February Hackney Council submitted a submission to government (PDF, 40KB) 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.
It 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's 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.
Page updated: 8 Aug 2014