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Council to get powers to curb bookies blight in town centres
Councils will be given new powers to help prevent new clusters of betting shops opening across town and city centres.
Bookmakers will have to submit planning applications for new shops which will allow local authorities, like Bradford Council, a chance to refuse permission if they are felt to be detrimental to shopping streets.
The move, announced by the Government yesterday, comes as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said communities had expressed concerns about the clustering of betting shops on some high streets.
The existing planning system classes a betting shop in the same category as a bank or estate agent, meaning they can open without the need for a planning application.
The changes will mean councils can scrutinise the applications and refuse them where there are grounds to do so.
In July 2012, the Telegraph & Argus started a campaign called Beat the Betting Blight campaign calling for local authorities to be given exactly those powers.
Val Summerscales, secretary of Bradford Chamber of Trade, said last night: “We are absolutely delighted that somebody is finally waking up to the problem. It is a step in the right direction, especially where there are clusters of shops.
“Local authorities should be able to assess these matters. It is a sensible way forward, especially where several have been allowed to open in an area like Bradford city centre.
“It is something we have been campaigning for, for a long time.”
Councillor Val Slater, the Council’s executive member for housing, planning and transport, said: “We have had concerns about the number of betting shops in Bradford. Up until now we have not had the powers to stop them.
“What we need is a balanced and vibrant high street, without being dominated by any particular shop, particularly betting shops.”
The Right Reverend Tom Butler, who is acting Area Bishop of Bradford, said: “I support any effort which reverses the trend of our high streets becoming a series of betting shops.”
David Ward, MP for Bradford East, also backed the changes and criticised what he described as “proliferation” of betting shops and high-value gaming machines, which will also be subject to change.
He said: “No doubt they offer a wonderful form of entertainment for many people, and who is to say how people should enjoy their time. But I know people have come to my surgery because of gambling problems.
“I don’t think it adds to the high street to have a parade of betting shops. If we do have local discretion, it is a good thing.”
However, Shipley MP Philip Davies said: “I agree with localism so I do not have a problem with decisions being given to local authorities. What I would be concerned about is if Bradford Council does not like bookmakers would it have empty shops instead?
“If it was a choice between Ladbrokes, William Hill or Marks & Spencer, then it would be Marks & Spencer. But if the choice is do you want an empty shop or a betting shop, then you would want a betting shop every time.”
The Government also set out plans to improve protections for players on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), including making those who want to bet more than £50 in one play to pay over the counter, meaning that they have to interact with staff.
Coun Slater said: “Anything that helps us control that and makes for a better high street is welcomed.”
Planning Minister Nick Boles said: “This is part of a wider set of measures designed to get empty and redundant buildings back into productive use and make it easier for valued town centre businesses like shops, banks and cafes to open new premises, while giving councils greater powers to tackle the harm to local amenity caused by a concentration of particular uses.”
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