London’s bumbling and eccentric Mayor Boris Johnson has gone on the offensive against betting shops and commented that they should have to obtain planning permission. For years now, opponents have been voicing their concerns over the proliferation of betting premises on a number of high streets across the capital and the loss of cultural identity that results.
Johnson said, “I recognise that betting shops have an important role to play in our culture and provide entertainment to many people.
“But there is a balance to be struck between having betting shops as a part of the high street retail mix and the negative impact they can have on shoppers and visitors when they start to dominate.”
In typical political style it comes over a year after he was first questioned on the issue and it was a question he didn’t bother replying to. Too busy thinking about how much bigger his estate will be after this year. Now he’s coming back to an issue that has even prompted a new bill to be put forward to parliament.
This comes after Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham, introduced the Private Members Bill entitled “Betting Shops Bill 2010-2011” earlier this year after becoming concerned at the amount of betting shops taking over certain premises (banks and building societies are regularly cited.) At the time certain commentators doubted it will pass its second reading in January with MP Laurence Robertson commenting at the time that “no longer the seedy establishments which they may once have been.”
He even added “problem gambling doesn’t exist, with less than one percent of those having bets in the country being defined as having a problem.”
Someone get him a…oh…there’s already a pint in his hand. Good. Thankfully Boris isn’t picking on the problem gambling aspect that is regularly cited the world over and is instead worried about the effect that bookies have on the look of high streets.
The Association of British Bookmakers is a trade group that represents UK betting shop operators and spokesperson Tom Kenny was clear on the effect any changes might have.
“Local betting offices (LBO) provide a community resource and social opportunity for the many Londoners who choose to use them. Regular punters meet friends and are often on first name terms with counter staff at their favourite LBO, and it would be regrettable if the Mayor were to take that away,” he said.
Kenny’s comments echo those of Dr Patrick Basham who has in the past argued that retirees who “remain active in the community and constantly engage in social activity, often, largely or exclusively through gambling, live happier and healthier lives.”
With the pubs closing at an alarming rate and the bookies now being challenged, you have to ask where seniors will be able to go soon in order to socialize. Changes to the make-up of high streets would affect the happiness of those that visit bookmakers directly and it’s not something that Mayor Boris will want just months before an election.
Kenny continued, “The fact is that the Mayor of London doesn’t manage the city in the same way that some mayors do overseas. What I think Boris is really saying is that he’ll write to the Secretary of State asking for tighter planning controls on betting shops.
“Meanwhile we’ll continue to make the case that betting shops are already tightly controlled under the Planning Act and the Gambling Act. As commercial enterprises, LBOs are located where rents are affordable and there is customer demand.”
If legislation was altered and betting office planning permission changed, it’s likely all you’d find is a proliferation in the amount of takeaway restaurants or a rise in the number of off licenses. We could go on. The point is that taking betting shops away to improve the high streets could end up having the reverse effect. In the current economic climate, it’s unlikely businesses will be queuing up to take the pitches that the reported 64 betting shops in Hackney would leave behind. If they were taken up how do we know it won’t be something else that will slight the area?
Right now, if the demand is there and these companies pay the rent then there’s little that should be done to change the already strict planning laws. Under the Gambling Act and Planning Act, residents have the right to complain and object to new betting shops being built; it needn’t be a whole lot different to this. Whether Boris and his cronies see the wider picture is another thing entirely.