Don Foster declares war on betting shops

don fosterOne of the lower profile motions on the agenda for Federal Conference in Glasgow is entitled ‘High Street Gambling’. It is relatively short and contains just two recommendations:

Conference therefore calls on Liberal Democrats in government to push for:
1. Betting shops to be put in a new separate planning use class, allowing local authority planning committees to control them
2. The Gambling Act to be amended to allow council licensing committees to take into account the cumulative impact of a proliferation of gambling activities when considering applications.

The problem at the moment is that betting shops fall into the same planning category as banks. So when a branch of a bank or building society closes, it can be converted into a betting shop or a gaming outlet (ie with banks of gambling machines) without the need to apply for planning permission for change of use.

Don Foster, the Lib Dem minister for Communities and Local Government, believes that the decision whether a gambling establishment should open in a particular location should be in the hands of local councillors.

The Daily Mail (I can’t believe that I am quoting that paper again, but the story hasn’t been taken up by other media yet)  claims:

Bookmakers have swamped the UK’s shopping parades – with numbers up 25 per cent since 2008 – and in one London borough, Newham, there are currently 82 – six per square mile.

Earlier this year Newham Council refused to allow a further betting shop in an already over-crowded street, but it was overturned on appeal.

Incidentally, the Mail’s claim that betting shops can now be opened in pubs is clearly refuted by this Government statement.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Seems that online gambling is where the real expansion is at present, and we should be looking at exercising more control there as the priority.

  • Simon McGrath 7th Aug '13 - 2:20pm

    Of course we could just let people make up their own minds if they want to gamble – in a betting shop, online or anywhere else.

  • Tim13 – controlling online gambling focuses on the gambling side of things. The motion described seems to be more concerned with the planning aspects.

  • Sid Cumberland – I understand the focus on Planning, but ultimately the reason is because visual – and physical – space is being taken up more and more by gambling, which I think is what Don Foster is trying to recognise with the creation of a separate use class. The effect, if anything, is even more marked online. And while in theory, I am with Simon McGrath about people being free to gamble, I recognise the need for regulation / control, because of the harmful effects excessive or addictive gambling can have.

  • >”betting shops fall into the same planning category as banks.”
    Obviously someone years back realised that their operated similar business models …

    Yes it is obvious that there should be a change of use application. I assume however, that the operator still has to put in an license application and hence the LA do have the power to refuse this.

  • The reason there are so many betting shops springing up is the restriction on the number of fixed odds machines allowed in each shop. Remove or loosen this restriction and the demand for new shops would decrease.

  • With all the cuts to housing benefits and social security, it may seem like the only hope for the vulnerable to avoid starvation and homelessness is to gamble the last few pounds in the hope of a big win to rescue one from the situation.
    This would drive gambling behaviour to increase, while people reduce spending on other items though necessity.

    This is a welcome step to avoid one’s high street becoming overtaken by gambling shops, however the government would do well to address the root cause of the problem, and not to exacerbate difficulties in the first place.

  • The bigger problem here is surely, not that there are too many betting shops being allowed to open up, but what are our local high streets for?
    Many high streets in impoverished areas, are a sea of £1 shops, charity shops, cheap beer, cheap food, second hand furniture shops, as well as those dreaded betting shops, all aimed at their market,.. the poor.
    Mary Portas, had a stab at this problem, with little success, but the question still remains. What activity and commerce can thrive on our high streets?

  • Helen Dudden 8th Aug '13 - 9:57pm

    What a waste of time for someone paid a Ministerial salary.

  • Helen Dudden 9th Aug '13 - 2:06pm

    Don do you feel it would be a good idea if we could swap, and use other MP’s? With complex issues that some are unwilling, to give much time too, I feel it would be fairer on those with problems like child abduction and housing issues, that have arisen because of the lack of housing.

    We can shop around for a doctor, a hospital, and various other much needed items. So why not an MP?

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