Councils call for powers to tackle betting shop 'blight'
- 1 February 2014
- From the section Business
Council leaders have called for tougher powers to tackle the "blight" of betting shops.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said that rules needed changing in England and Wales to prevent bookmakers being "clustered" in town centres.
It said existing planning and licensing rules did not allow them to consider the concerns of local communities.
Bookmakers say the number of betting shops has remained fairly static for a decade and is half 1970s-levels.
Tony Page from the LGA said: "Councils aren't anti-bookies but need powers to tackle the damage that can be caused to High Streets and town centres".
The LGA, which represents 370 councils, said local authorities were "left powerless" when it came to limiting the number of shops opening in a given area.
Mr Page added: "Planning and licensing controls are supposed to ensure new shops or business will benefit an area...
"Licensing laws must be updated to allow councils to consider the impact a new betting shop would have on their local economy and existing businesses. This would protect the power of local communities and democratically-elected councillors to shape their area."
The LGA said the number of betting shops in some parts of London had doubled in the past decade.
Earlier this week, William Hill bookmakers' chief executive, Ralph Topping, was quoted as saying that clusters of betting shops could be harmful to communities.
Mr Topping spoke to the Racing Post saying that he would recommend additional licensing powers for councils if there was a damaging effect on a local area.
But the Association of British Bookmakers says there has been "no proliferation" in the overall number of bookmakers in recent years.
In a submission to a government consultation last year it said that bookmakers "add to the vitality and vibrancy of the High Street" and drive footfall to other businesses.
It added that the location of new shops was a response to customer demand and argued bookmakers were not as highly concentrated as some other retail services.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average household in the UK spent £166 last year on gambling. That is up 50 pence on the previous year. It is 60 pence more a week than the average household spent on going to the cinema, theatre or museums combined.
Meanwhile, ministers recently said that the growth of high-stakes roulette machines on the High Street is "concerning" and they do not rule out action to restrict them.
People can wager £100 every 20 seconds on fixed-odds betting terminals.