Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sustainable Community Act: Government Response to our Betting Shop Proposals

Way back in 2009, Ute worked closely with local residents to make a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act, to try to give Councils more powers to turn down betting shops in areas where there were already a number of bookies. The proposals were agreed at Ladywell Ward Assembly, then passed on by Lewisham to the Local Government Association and from them on to the government. See here for more details.

Well, it's been a long time coming, what with having a new government and all that, but the Department for Communities and Local Government has finally responded.

For those not inclined to read the whole 109-page document, the bit responding to Lewisham's submission about betting shops is on p44-46.

In a nutshell, the government seemed to think that local councils already have enough power in this area and said:

DCLG: "We believe that, instead of the civil service only being focused upwards on providing advice to Ministers, we must drive the focus downwards and outwards to put those resources at the service of communities nationwide. So civil servants will work with the following councils to use their existing powers so they are able to achieve the outcomes they want for themselves, or work further with them to explore the issues raised in more detail."

Hmm, ok, but actually I thought the SCA was supposed to be grassroots up, telling national government what we wanted them to change, not them lecturing (sorry 'advising') us. Hmm.
DCLG's response, with my comments [in brackets] below:

• The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently considering with the Gambling Commission whether guidance can be amended to give licensing authorities more confidence to use their existing powers to intervene under the prevention of crime or disorder objective of the Gambling Act,
working with the police where necessary. [Well Lewisham to its credit did turn down some betting shop applications and then lost on appeal at not inconsiderable cost - maybe the magistrates who consider the appeals are using a very narrow interpretation of the grounds for refusal?]

• There is a lack of data on the numbers and concentrations of betting shops pre September 2007, as there was no central collection of figures before the introduction of the Gambling Act. DCMS know the total number of betting shops has remained constant or declined in recent years [not in Lewisham and particularly Deptford it hasn't!] and is working with the Gambling Commission to identify better data on the numbers and locations. But it will be difficult to assess how this may have changed since the Gambling Act came into force in September 2007.
• Concerns about betting shops and problem gambling often relate to their higher stake/higher prize gaming machines. We think this is a main cause of local concerns. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, which advises the Gambling Commission and the Government on research, education and treatment, has prioritised the development of a programme of work into the risks relating to higher prize gaming machines. [I would say that the main concerns in Lewisham relate to anti-social behaviour outside the premises, particularly in the case of Deptford High Street, and the loss of A1 retail units which can jeopardise the viability of small shopping parades.]
• Local planning authorities have planning powers to use in controlling the number and location of betting shops (though this must be in relation to planning considerations, such as amenity, building mix, parking and congestion issues). Current planning policy encourages local planning authorities to pro-actively manage town centres and subsidiary shopping areas to promote vitality through a good mix of investment. Local planning authorities can use local shop frontage policies for parades of shops to ensure good representation of shops, alongside service uses and thus limit the concentration of betting shops [Not much use if the property is already A2 financial and no planning change of use is required though].

• Under the Use Classes Order, betting shops are classed as A2. Other A2 uses (such as banks and estate agents) and A3, A4 and A5 uses could change to betting shops without planning permission for change of use. It would be possible to alter the Use Classes Order to limit these changes or make betting shops sui generis, so planning permission would always be required for material changes of use. But to do this, we would need to demonstrate that there was a material planning difference between betting shops and other A2 land uses in terms in the impact on the environment. [I think there clearly is a difference here, and if successive governments procrastinate much longer, we'll have little but betting shops and money exchange/money lenders left on the high streets in the most deprived parts of the borough].
• This would increase regulation and face councils with a potentially very large increase in the number of planning applications. It may not, therefore, be cost effective to make a national change. [Very weak argument - planning policy should be there to serve the local community, not minimise paper work for (admittedly over-stretched) planning departments.]
• Lewisham could, however, explore whether they could use Article 4 powers to limit the development of betting shops in particular areas and we would be happy to discuss this with them. [Now this is an interesting suggestion that I hadn't heard of before and I would like to hear what council officers and the Mayor and Cabinet make of this suggestion. Assuming it would be something like Article 4 directives with conservation areas]

So, to sum up, some useful suggestions here, but the response felt a bit like DCLG doing a Michael Winner and saying 'Calm down dear, you've already got all the powers you need' rather than listening seriously to the legitimate concerns expressed by local residents.

There is an excellent post over on Crosswhatfields blog about betting shops, the 2005 Gambling Act and the campaign in Deptford to stop betting shop number 10 from opening in the high street.

Photos from Deptford Dame and East London Lines.

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