Portland Bookmakers won their appeal against the Council’s decision last November to turn down their application for a betting shop licence for the former Homeview video shop on Brockley Road. This means that after 16 months of valiant, spirited, untiring und unprecedented local opposition the corner shop will become yet another bookies.
In spite of the ultimate outcome a big Thank You and Well Done is due to the many hundreds of local residents who got involved in this campaign in one way or another and in particular to those who gave evidence in the various hearings we’ve been to since last year and who, like me, know more about gambling legislation and research now than we ever thought we would.
Personally I don’t have great faith in the applicant’s promise to contribute to the community but hope lives on and I would like to be proved wrong.
I have, however, great faith in communities and as this case has shown once more, residents have risen to the challenge and made a well-argued sound case against the application. The saddest experience of the appeal hearing this week was that in his summing up statement, the applicant’s Counsel largely quoted passages from the recent Haringey appeal verdict which were irrelevant to the local situation – and yet this was good enough to get the licence.
As we argued objecting to the application, the proximity of both services for people recovering from addictions just yards away (and more services provided in a larger area around the premises with a higher density of provision than in other parts of the borough) and a secondary school round the corner should have been taken into consideration on the grounds of protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling. However, this sorry piece of legislation, the Gambling Act 2005 which a Labour government has seen fit to pass, does not deem these circumstances valid to refuse a licence. I am not against businesses or betting shops in principle but in reality there is virtually no balancing of business interests with the wider interests of a local community and society in general and in particular of protecting its more vulnerable members.
The law effectively forces the Council, which had turned down the licence application on these grounds last November, to undo with one hand what it does with the other. Lewisham Council spends millions of pounds every year on valuable services for a range of vulnerable people. One of these, a service for people recovering from addictions including gambling, is literally just yards away from the new betting premises. Maybe this makes sense to the MPs who voted in favour of this. It doesn’t make sense to me.