The blight of betting shops spreading across high streets should be tackled by tough new licensing powers handed to councils, according to the Local Government Association.
The body, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, was today setting out how the Government should reform the licensing system to stop ‘clusters’ of bookies taking over town and city centres.
The move comes 18 months after the Telegraph & Argus mounted its Beat The Betting Blight campaign calling for a change in planning rules that would give local authorities the power to stop a new bookmakers opening if they felt it would be detrimental to the local shopping environment.
The LGA says it has the backing of industry big-hitters William Hill and BetFred and will be setting up a gambling industry and LGA taskforce to address shoppers’ concerns.
New research by Deloitte reveals 52 per cent of people nationally wanted to see fewer betting shops on the high street.
The LGA said councils wanted to act on these concerns, but were getting increasingly frustrated by a “restrictive planning and licensing system”.
When granting new licences, councils are not allowed take into account the number of betting shops already present in a local area, or their economic and social impact.
The LGA is now calling for the Government to allow councils to consider the ‘cumulative impact’ when deciding on licences, a move which would force betting firms to prove that new shops would not have a negative impact on the local economy or existing businesses.
Councillor Tony Page, the LGA’s licensing spokesman, said many high streets had become saturated with betting shops and councils felt “powerless to act”.
He said: “Councils aren’t anti-bookies but need powers to tackle the damage that can be caused to high streets and town centres by the clustering of betting shops.”
Councillor Simon Cooke, the deputy leader of the oppostion Tory group on the Council, said care need to be taken when introducing any new legislation.
“My concern is if we hound out bookies, what do we get instead?” he said.
“At the moment they are occupying sites and providing jobs and doing things businesses do.”
He added: “I think we need to be cautious in the way we approach this. Bookmakers are not pushing out other business. They are coming into empty properties in the main. We could end up with empty shops.
“While I understand the desire to do some regulation on this, we should be careful what we wish for.”
Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Bradford Council, called for the proposed measures to be extended to cover takeaways too.
She said: “They’re all not open during the day, so hot food takeaways just kill off the trade on the high streets. They kill off the footfall.”