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Bid to halt invasion of betting shops in Bradford
Bradford Council is looking to take direct action to stop parts of the city centre becoming overrun by betting shops after further concerns were sparked by the opening of another bookmakers in Bradford.
There are now ten bookies operating in the city, as well as eight amusement centres and two casinos.
The latest William Hill branch, which has opened on Bank Street within a short walk of its existing bookmakers, has attracted criticism, amid claims Bradford Council was powerless to do anything about it.
The new Bank Street branch means there are five bookies in quick succession, and the move has come under fire from both traders groups and Council bosses.
Councillor David Green, leader of the Council, admitted they were unable to stop William Hill opening up its latest branch in Bradford as the premises had previously been used by a financial services company which, under planning rules, is in the same category of use.
He said the Council was looking at ways in which it could maintain a good retail mix.
“What we have got to try and do is not just simply rely on planning, but intervene directly in the future development of our city and town centres so that we can ensure a greater retail mix,” he said.
“We will be coming forward with some ideas about how we can implement this shortly.
“Over the years we have been in a position in the district where the Council’s ability to influence our high street has been limited. We need to look at a more proactive way to improve the offer and to encourage employment and entrepreneurship.”
The authority introduced rules relating to Council-owned retail property last year, allowing a potential tenant to be rejected if it would result in a concentration of a particular type of shop in one area, such as a bookmakers, takeaways or pawnbrokers.
Both Coun Green and Bradford Chamber of Trade have welcomed calls for new rules which would give betting shops their own classification under planning rules. This would lead to more change of use applications and therefore more opportunity for a local authority to step in. The Local Government Association, Mary Portas’s high street review and a Private Members’ Bill are all calling for the same rule change.
Val Summerscales, of the Chamber, was critical of the move by William Hill. She said: “This is one of the greatest concerns that we have as an organisation, that properties used by financial services don’t need to go back to anybody to apply to change into a bookies.
“We are looking to the Government to amend the laws to bring this kind of thing to a close. There was a private members bill last year, but it appears to have stalled.
“It would have allowed the local authority to place a cap and say we have sufficient bookies, and that would be enough to turn an application down. It would have also created a separate use class, which would mean a change of use application would be needed, meaning more opportunities for us and the local authority to have our say. Unless this is changed, any premises which have been used as banks and financial services could simply be turned into a betting shop without anyone being able to do anything about it.”
The trend for more betting shops is driven by restrictions on the number of lucrative gaming machines that can be located inside one shop, she added.
MP for the city centre, Respect’s George Galloway, said he would be asking questions in the House about the number of betting shops in Bradford.
He said: “They’ve joined the competition with pound shops to take over the shopping centres. It’s a manifestation of these desperate and impecunious times where people are desperate to make money somehow. They may be deluded, but it’s understandable when my constituency has the highest year-on-year increase in unemployment anywhere in the country. Any city centre needs a proper mix of shops and, this isn’t the case in Bradford right now.”
The trade association for bookmakers has defended bookies, saying they do not “cluster” their shops but open where there is the customer demand.
Dirk Vennix, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “Betting is a normal, everyday activity, with eight million people a year visiting betting shops to share the excitement of sporting events with friends and neighbours, generating more footfall than the average retail outlet apart from post offices and pharmacies.
“The industry is heavily regulated and taxed, contributing £3bn to the UK economy and paying nearly £1bn a year in tax. We also pay business rates, helping support town centres and high streets. Bookmakers create jobs in the areas they operate and nationally employ over 40,000 people, and this is at a time when one in seven retail outlets is vacant.”
A spokesman for William Hill told the Telegraph & Argus the company’s decision to open another branch so close to one of its existing shops in Bradford city centre was due to “market forces”.
She said: “We run and open our businesses around areas that have a high population and high amount of footfall. We also do a lot of market research before we decide to open. Betting shops bring footfall to the area as well which helps to make the area more prosperous.”
She added that the new Bank Street branch had created four jobs.