Government refuses new powers for Councils to control bookmakers


The Lewisham Greens have issued a statement in response to the government's dismissal of calls to give Councils greater powers to limit the number of betting shops located on local high streets.
Lewisham's ill-fated attempt to prevent Portland bookmakers setting up shop in Brockley proved to be a test case for Councils, demonstrating how little power they have to limit the number of bookmakers serving local communities. Deptford High Street is among the Lewisham streets to have since been overrun by bookies.
Here's the Green's release:
Since the Gambling Act, which came into force in 2007, made it easier for bookmakers to open new branches, Lewisham has seen a huge rise in the number of licensing applications for betting shops.

By June 2009 the number of valid licences was 97, and more new bookies have opened since then. Deptford recently saw two former pubs, the Deptford Arms and the John Evelyn, converted into betting shops, and campaigners in the area are currently fighting an application for a 8th betting shop on Deptford High Street.

Local people have objected on the grounds that the sheer number of betting shops is crowding out other shops and services from local high streets, and appealed to the government to give councils more powers to refuse betting shop applications.


Yet the government's response to proposals made under the Sustainable Communities Act, which invites communities to suggest ways in which local areas might be improved, states that there is no case for a change in the law, and that councils should “be more confident to use their existing powers”.
Ute Michel, campaigner and spokeswoman for Lewisham Green Party, said:
“The response from the government to our proposal beggars belief. The situation was bad enough a few years ago when we were opposing the first application under the new law for a bookie's on Brockley Road, but it has only got worse since.
“We respect people’s right to bet, so this never was a finger-wagging campaign against gambling.
“It is about the devastating effect on the economic health of local shopping parades and neighbourhoods when bookie after bookie lines a street, crowding out other goods and services and eroding the sense of place and community and we simply wanted to be able to say 'enough is enough'.”

39 comments:

Lou Baker said...

@greens

This is why people like you should not be allowed anywhere near power.

If people want to bet, that's their business - not yours.

The market will decide when there are enough bookmakers.

In any case bookies are not the cause of the problem - they are a symptom of it. The cause is bad education which leads to unemployment, poverty, crime and a weekly benefits payment - which is then spent in the bookies.

Brockley Nick said...

@Lou - I largely agree with you that they are a symptom rather than a cause. They are legitimate businesses with a place in the high street.

But there is surely an argument for giving communities to decide the appropriate balance - in the same way that Councils have the right to decide how many boozers there can be in an area. The problem is that the planning categories are so broad that if a Council gives permission for one type of business to operate at a site, there is little they can do to stop a bookie springing up in its place. This is what happened in the case of Portland. They thought they were giving permission for an Estate Agent, they got a bookmaker instead.

Anonymous said...

if the market decided I wonder how trains we would get in Brockley?

gerry l said...

Though I find bookmakers repugnant, it's hard to argue against the supply and demand argument. I'm just amazed that there would be the level of demand suggested by that number of applications. Still, presumably once their punters have been bled dry some of them will be forced to move on.

Anonymous said...

How about we go by a "one bookies per mung bean shop" model - something Brockley is virtually employing at the moment?

Anonymous said...

Communities decide the appropriate balance with their wallets alas.

Anonymous said...

Funny how they dont care how many Bookies there are, in the same way they dont care how many Pubs close.

Anonymous said...

@Gerry - how are they bled dry? People have a choice of whether or not they want to gamble.
Having worked in a bookies I have no sympathy at all for the punters, who I found to be a thoroughly nasty deceitful bunch.
Re planning, bookies don't have that much impact on communities shirley? In my experience it's the pubs they're next to which cause the nuisance behaviour people seem to object to. Unless there's some other reason to object that I'm missing?

Lou Baker said...

Trains are different.

They fulfil a role in getting people to and from work and rules are required to keep unprofitable services running.

Bookies, pubs etc do not fill such a role and I think it should be up to the market and not bureaucrats to decide.

I'm no fan of bookmakers - I think I've used one once, ever. But if I want to gamble I should be allowed to.

Imagine the outcry if the Greens launched a campaign against another greengrocer opening on the grounds that there are too many opportunities to buy bananas in Lewisham.

That's their exact argument with bookies. They've picked an industry they don't like and come up with a dumb solution.

Headhunter said...

I suppose it's hard to "victimise" a certain business over any other and it's especially unlikely that under a Tory government we're going to see any more state power imposed on business. However I can see that it would be good for local communities to be able to encourage a bit more diversity on shopping streets.

Anonymous said...

So we're agreed that the Market does need to be constrained or manipulated if we, as a society, deem there is a greater good. The Market is not always the best method of deciding the shape of our environment.

Brockley Economist said...

@Lou

The point you make about the rules for keeping unprofitable services running is a good one, but it has nothing to do with trains being a method of transport to work (witness cars, walking, cycling, buses which mostly go unsubsidised).

The reason we subsidise trains is because the market would not deliver enough of them on its own ("socially inefficiency" in the jargon). That is because it is hard to get farepayers to pay enough to cover the huge fixed costs of the network, even though altogether we are better off having trains. Furthermore trains have external benefits to society that the farepayer and train company do not capture such as reduced pollution, reduced congestion and so on.

There is a similar market failure in the provision of bookies. The people who go into them presumably like them. But lots of other people would rather the space on the high street were used for something else or even that the bookies were not there at all. In such instances, as in the market for trains, there is a case for intervention such as this to engineer an outcome that people collectively prefer.

The problem with the laissez faire attitude that you set out is that ultimately it doesn't lead to a society that we'd all rather live in. As Burke says "liberty, too, must be limited in order to be possessed".

Brockley Economist said...

*"social inefficiency"

Anonymous said...

@Lou Baker

market fundamentalism is the cause of many of Britain's problems.

Lou Baker said...

@anon

Like?

I'd suggest that a poor education system is the cause of most of our problems - not business.

I have no problem with industry being regulated - good businesses benefit from sensible regulation. The issue is putting up barriers to entering the market, which is what you are effectively doing by limiting the number of bookies that can open. That's silly.

As, incidentally, is the building categorisation which stipulates premises a can only be used as a restaurant, or can not be used as x, y or z. That's unnecessary bureaucracy.

Setting up a business should be as easy as possible. We do make it unnecessarily hard.

Anonymous said...

Someone from Lewisham Planning Dept once told me that the reason they didn't like bookmakers was because they provided a convenient place for people (well, men probably) to hang around in so as to deal drugs. In which case the police may have sufficient powers to stop them opening or at least close them down.

Brockley Economist said...

@ Lou,

No-one likes having them around apart from their customers, the market will therefore deliver too many bookies. We should therefore be putting up barriers to prevent bookies specifically from opening.

Agree with general point that there are too many barriers to business.

Raoul Moat said...

"No-one likes having them around apart from their customers"

Cern't yaz see that about any viabil bizniz thaa pet? Includin' twee delis like?

Anonymous said...

Re the number of betting shops...why so many?

Well, I've been told they have gambling machines which are very profitable but the law restricts how many can be any one betting shop.

Hence the number of betting shhops.

William said...

Bookies are not the cause of the problem - they are a symptom of the problem. It is the cycle of poverty that makes gambling attractive. Bookies are mearly filling a need.

Howson Road said...

Are we gonna limit the number of cafes in Brockley to prevent obesity too?

bush said...

William, yes, we've moved on from that point, see Lou and Nick's first comments on the thread.

Howson that's a rubbish argument. Must try harder.

max said...

Caffeine keeps you slim, I'm living proof of that.

Howson Road said...

Bush: I think you will find it is a very good analogy. Too much of anything is bad for you...

Headhunter said...

Car driving, cycling and walking are all subsidised to some extent. I've posted this before which highlights the real cost of motoring. Cyclists also benefit from better road surfaces and with the government bike to work scheme, can also buy bikes udner a salary sacrifice scheme. As for walking, again, pavements are (supposedly) maintained at public expense.

Anonymous said...

People regularly deal drugs outside the betting shops on Deptford High Street - incredibly indiscreetly too.

Read this to see how much of a virus betting shops in Deptford have become:

http://crossfields.blogspot.com/2011/02/move-along-there-police-notebook.html

We don't want this virus spreading to the whole of Lewisham...

Howson Road said...

...because they wouldn't deal drugs if there were no betting shops there?

Anonymous said...

@Howson Road

No, but the betting shops on Deptford High Street have become a focal point for petty crime and drug dealing in the area. Deptford residents shouldn't have to put up with scenes like this on their main shopping thoroughfare.

If you haven't read the blog url that I posted yet, I urge you to take a look.

Howson Road said...

I agree that drug dealing and crime is bad, but I do not think bookmakers are to blame...if they close then something else will turn into the hub.

Tom said...

a non-economist writes: the margins (profits on transactions) at betting shops can be very high (on a good year), which helps explain why - in the short term - the market will provide a lot of them, particularly in an environment of loosening regulation.

I looked at Ladbrokes' results, and noticed that it is actually over-the-counter business that is far more profitable than machines. (OTC amount staked £2.7bn; 'gross win' (ie Ladbrokes' earnings) £427.4m. Machine amounts staked £8.8bn; gross win £282.5m).

Given the rise of out-of-town stores and supermarkets, our High Streets are now only good for high margin outlets where competition hasn't gone into a big box. Hence coffee shops, delis and - for certain areas - betting shops.

Brockley Nick said...

@Tom, yes, and to that extent I think betting shops are welcome. The problem becomes that if there are too many in one spot, no other types of business (the high-margin sorts you mention) want to set-up there, because they think their customers will be put off.

That's why regulation is useful.

Paolo said...

If the betting shops are a focal point for petty crime and drug dealing, it should at least make it easier for the police to do their job

Whilst I am instinctively sympathetic to Lou's point, I do believe there have to be some local planning regulations and that these are best decided at the local level

The somewhat rotund Mr Pickles has the right idea - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11780918

Tom said...

yes - the non-economist writes - the externalities of betting shops raises questions about the desirability. the deptford blog is eloquent - in a somewhat chaotic way - as to the perceived negative externalities of these shops.

there is also the more basic question: what benefit does small-scale financial speculation offer, other than to the two parties involved? As far as I can tell, the answer is nothing. there are no positive externalities I can discern.

On a political note, the attitude by the previous government to open the floodgates to gambling without any thought of the consequences was probably as destructive act against the poor as anything I've seen in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Regulation is helpful in protecting existing business but sometimes prevents competition and choice to the end user.

The 2005 Gambling Act was introduced in 2007 and since it’s inception we have seen a decline in the overall number of betting shops (Official Statistics from Gambling Commission). Certain areas have obviously seen an increase and I’d like to explain one of the key reasons.

The previous Gambling Act dated back to the 60’s and (among other things) prevented any new betting shop opening within ¼ mile radius of an existing shop. Having this protection by law (and obvious monopoly) led to a decline in service and facilities throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The ‘big three’, Ladbrokes, Hills and Corals (who between them have a market share in excess of 65%) were as guilty as any of not reinvesting in their estate. It has taken the new act and the introduction of competition to end this control.

New shops entering the high street provide toilets (including disabled facilities), air conditioning, refreshments, comfortable seating, CCTV (for security of staff and customers) along with betting concessions far better than any offered in the past. Customers vote with their feet as has already been pointed out.

Danja said...

And yet another for Deptford:
http://acolnet.lewisham.gov.uk/LEWIS-XSLPagesDC/acolnetcgi.exe?ACTION=UNWRAP&RIPNAME=Root.PgeResultDetail&TheSystemkey=62173

Anonymous said...

Why was the last government with a 'prudent' Scottish chancellor sooo eager on betting?

From betting shops to Super Casinos they wanted more and more but it's not as if the public were pushing for the changes.

Was it just about raising tax revenue and stuff consequences?

TM said...

Don't forget to support our LOCAL bookmaker this weekend when punting on the Grand National...

TM again said...

Sorry I should have said "by which I meand Portland.........."

TM third time lucky said...

meand? should read meant

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