Stephen Williams MP writes… Giving councils more power over betting shops

fixed-odd-betting-machinesThe remit of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is huge. Ministers are responsible for housing, local economic development, planning policy, parking, local government finance, localism and community integration. Often these issues spark controversy. But all CLG ministers are in complete agreement that there is an urgent need to revitalise the Great British High Street, to bring back the bustling centres of retail and leisure which served their communities so well prior to the financial crash. We want high streets and town centres that encourage people to spend a couple of relaxing hours working their way around the shops and enjoying a coffee or a meal in a restaurant.

Following the crash came the recession and many of these outlets that made whiling away a couple of hours on the high streets such an enjoyable experience disappeared. Closures didn’t limit themselves to small independent shops or restaurants either, huge seemingly invincible chains like HMV, Woolworths and Blockbuster also vanished from many high streets. The internet has also moved spending away from bookshops, something I particularly lament.

There was, however, one specific type of retail outlet that seemed not only to survive the recession, but positively blossom throughout it. I am sure you, like me, have noticed the huge increase in betting shops on our high streets. Since 2008, the number of betting shops has surged in the UK. There has been an estimated 25% increase in numbers nationwide, with some areas more affected than others. In the London Borough of Newham, for example, there are now 82 gambling outlets – six per square mile. This has often come at the expense of independent retailers, who play central roles in communities; businesses such as local bakeries, hairdressers and newsagents. In my constituency of Bristol West new betting shops have opened on Park Street and Gloucester Road, the greatest high street in England.

I can hear some of you shifting uneasily in your seats; “It’s a free market”; “It’s only a bit of harmless fun”; “The only other option is the shops lying empty”. All these are perfectly logical arguments; it is a free market, many people only have the occasional flutter and no one wants empty shops. But these establishments aren’t showing up in leafy upper-middle class suburbia. They are flourishing in communities where large sections of the population earn below the average wage, they are dangling false hope in front of people, many of whom are desperate and pocketing the take home pay of families who can’t afford it.

During a time of economic recovery, with people’s wages still being squeezed, the Liberal Democrats believe that there should be appropriate planning regulations in place to ensure that local communities have a say over the makeup of their high streets.

Councils already have some powers to control the types of premises on high streets through ‘Article 4’ directions. These allow them to withdraw permitted development rights and refuse planning permission for specific types of premises, such as takeaways, if allowing such development would be harmful to local amenity and the local area. However, Article 4 directions are often seen by councils as difficult to apply and many fear legal challenge, for instance from large pub companies.

That is why I am so pleased that the Coalition Government is today embracing Lib Dem policy and empowering local councillors to decide whether or not to give approval to additional gambling venues in their community. At our 2013 Autumn Conference in Glasgow, Lib Dem activists approved a motion proposed by Cllr Jon Ball from Ealing, giving councils the power to limit the number of betting shops in their area.

I became the Lib Dem Minister at DCLG after the 2013 conference season and have been discussing with Coalition colleagues how to bring this policy into effect. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have supported Nick Boles and myself in finding a solution to the growth of betting shops, a subject raised with us by MPs from across the Commons.

The problem is that the planning use class A2 for Financial and Professional services is so broad that it includes everything from banks to estate agents, credit unions to betting shops. So we have decided that all other uses will be stripped out of the class, leaving behind betting shops. This means that councillors will be able to insist on a planning application to shift from another retail use.
This will put more power into the hands of local people to decide how to shape their high streets. The Coalition has an excellent record on helping the high street, not just through planning but also financial assistance and leadership right across government. I’m pleased to play my part in this sea change in policy, which will support all the great high streets in Bristol and across the country.

NOTE – the Government has also acted today on the related problem of fixed odds betting terminals. The full announcement can be read here.

* Stephen Williams was the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West 2005-2015 and was Minister for Communities in the Coalition Government.

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  • Geoffrey Payne 1st May '14 - 1:07pm

    This is good news, elected local councils are the best agency to make these decisions.
    There is no economic benefit to gambling establishments. If they did not exist people will either spend their money on something else or not get into debt.

  • Julian Dean 1st May '14 - 7:06pm

    Cheap localism, get it while you can, more LG grant cuts on the way!

  • Linda Forbes 1st May '14 - 10:15pm

    Perhaps we need to recognise the face of the High Street has been changed irrevocably by the internet, where one can shop from home at any hour of the day to suit, and have goods delivered (or collect yourself if preferred). The crash of 2008 may have resulted in closures but the cost of business rates/rent on ‘prime’ sites is now too high for marginal businesses to sustain. Perhaps only those with tax benefits (such as charity shops) and those that deal in cash (banks, bookies) can afford a presence?

  • Matt Wardman 2nd May '14 - 12:03am

    Your stats appear to be drivel, Steve.

    “Since 2008, the number of betting shops has surged in the UK. There has been an estimated 25% increase in numbers nationwide, with some areas more affected than others. ”

    Where does this come from? Estimated by whom? Such an alleged proliferation of gambling shops seems simply to be a figment of someone’s imagination.

    According to the official regulator, the Gambling Commission, who publish the official statistics in their official Annual Report once a year, the number of Betting Premises increased from 8872 in 2009 to 9031 in 2013, ie by about one tenth of the amount you claim.

    Why rely on an unsourced “estimate” when 2 minutes research would get you the real information?

    Regulation of FOBTs more – yes. The other – that campaign has zero credibility.

  • Suzanne Fletcher

    If the bookies in Stockton are only making about 3% profit on that turnover I would suggest they close themselves down and put their money in the bank, they would make nearly as much without the risk. However, that would mean more unemployed and empty shops in Stockton. Within reason lets not try to live other peoples lives and get to nanny state about this.

  • >”where large sections of the population earn below the average
    >wage, they are dangling false hope in front of people”

    Yes, quite right, lets get rid of false hope for the hopeless! I’ve drawn up a LIST OF OTHER THINGS TO BAN :

    National Lottery
    Cigarettes (duh!)
    Estate Agents (the poor shouldn’t be gambling on housing)
    Provident, and any loans for people earning under £10k
    Sex for people earning under £10k
    Pawn Shops
    Porn Shops
    Prawn Shops (the poor like seafood, but it’s costly – ban)
    People earning under £10k

    Turns out betting shops breed like rabbits, who in turn breed like poor people; maybe we should add rabbits to the list. I assume that stock brokers won’t be included in your reclassification, or other services offering financial gambling, so this policy is clearly designed to dictate and discriminate against the working class.

    You call yourself a liberal, but you’ve made it clear that you see banning things as the best approach to social issues. You were instrumental in destroying the UK’s pub culture by means of the smoking ban, now you’re moving on to doing the same to the high street.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '18 - 1:39pm

    Fixed odds betting terminals are hot news today. The Daily Telegraph has a scoop, that Tracey Crouch is on the verge of resignation. The DT journalist telephoned her, but she was unable to confirm or deny the story at the time.
    BBC Politics Live has a panel of one Tory, the deputy leader of the Labour party, an SNP MP and Suzanne Evans (ex-UKIP). Suzanne Evans claimed that UKIP started this campaign. I remember a Lib Dem federal conference motion, which was carried, about the gambling addiction which is caused. Obviously the betting industry lobbies against the proposed changes, which would reduce their revenues, but the government should carry on and do what Tracey Crouch wants. Apparently the Budget Red Book states that alternative revenue can come from taxing online gambling.
    Tracey Crouch is a junior minister who has apparently been stopped by her own (new?) Cabinet Minister. He should speak now.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '18 - 2:55pm
  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '18 - 3:27pm

    Jeremy Wright has answered an urgent notice question in the commons claiming that there is no change in policy.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '18 - 7:57pm

    Tracey Crouch has resigned.
    Is this the usual outcome that the junior minister resigns or has to suffer the defeat on what is clearly a matter of principle and therefore a matter of policy?
    A free vote in the Commons would be a good idea.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Nov '18 - 9:01am

    This is a cross-party issue. There is widespread support for Tracey Crouch.
    The Chancellor is facing defeat on the Finance Bill.

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