I welcome this opportunity to talk about the scourge of betting shops in our borough. I feel particularly strongly about this, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for some time and partly because they are a particular issue in my ward and in Islington as a whole. Unless people live in an area like ours, which has seven or eight betting shops on one high street, they cannot understand the blight that the proliferation of these places represents.
We have seen a huge rise in the number of betting shops over the past decade, particularly in inner London. I think that there are now 62 in Islington, which is well above the national average. In my ward alone there are 14 betting shops within 0.7 miles of each other – this is outrageous and no one can claim is necessary.
However they are not just betting shops, and in many cases, they are the equivalent of casinos, with highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals that prey on the poorest in our borough. Often, there are many of these in one shop and their predatory nature suck vulnerable people into addiction and despair.
Betting shops put nothing back into our community. The pattern of new betting shops opening within the M25 shows that they have targeted the poorest areas with the highest unemployment and poverty. There are three times the number of betting shops in Newham as there are in Richmond. What could be more predatory than that? The people who can least afford to bet are being tempted by four or five betting shops in a row. Furthermore, hundreds of public order offences are committed outside betting shops every week, contributing to low-level social disorder.
As a local authority we’ve done what we can to stop their proliferation and I’d like to commend Councillor Murray for the work he has done on this and the firm plans he has set out. But the government’s changes are undermining what we’re trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans in a reckless free-for-all.
Their further deregulation of the planning system earlier this year which allows more use classes to change into betting shops without planning permission is going to have damaging repercussions in our borough.
This council motion makes some important points and I agree that now is the time, following the trigger of the Portas report, for government to take note and give local authorities more power over their high streets. Putting betting shops into a separate ‘Use class’ of their own” would be a good start and would help local authorities like ours to end the scourge of predatory betting shops in some of the poorest communities in our country.