Does Redhill need another betting shop?

Redhill town centre is struggling.  Too many of our town centre shops are vacant and we currently face several more applications for ‘change of use’, which will result in premises sliding down the scale from shops, to ‘financial services’ to fast food outlets.

But one business seems to be doing well: betting shops.

There are already three within a short stroll from Maple Square.  Now local traders are warning that another one wants to open on Station Road.

Do betting shops make a positive contribution to our town?  To learn more, I watched a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on the subject.

Targetting the poor

The programme showed how these type of ‘high street casinos’ have proliferated since the Labour Government relaxed rules about gambling with the 2005 Gambling Act.

On average one new bookie opens every week nationwide. They are usually clustered in run down areas with high unemployment, targeting people who can least afford to lose money.

They often seem to act as a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Problems from robbery and prostitution down to drunk and disorderly behaviour can all be exacerbated by the presence of betting shops.

Dangerously addictive

Dispatches highlighted how high street betting shops are increasingly dominated by video gaming machines known as ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminals’, or FOBTs.

These machines allow you to place bets in very quick succession, gambling up to £100 every 20 seconds. It wouldn’t take too long to lose many thousands of pounds.

FOBTs are dangerously addictive, and problem gamblers, those with a serious addiction, now lose more money on FOBT machines than on horses, the dogs and in traditional casinos combined.

Planning challenge

But as they are classed as ‘financial services’ for planning purposes – the same as banks, building societies and estate agents – it’s very difficult for local councils to stop betting shops opening.

It is possible for a premises to have a financial services (A2) use class restricted by condition to disallow certain uses.  Lewisham Council was able to stop a building society premises from being taken over by a betting shop because they had good evidence that crime and anti-social behaviour in the area was affected by the growth of betting shops. The Planning Inspector upheld this decision.

Some councils are leading a campaign to amend the planning laws to put betting shops into a class separate from financial institutions. That looks very sensible to me and I will look into whether Reigate & Banstead could support this campaign.

Meanwhile, if you would like to help stop the spread of gambling in our town centre, you can write to the council asking them to put a condition on 30 Station Road to prevent it being let to a betting shop. This shop is currently an employment agency but the owner wants to lift the restrictions to allow any A2 use.  There are rumours – well substantiated I understand – that a betting firm is ready to take it over.

Or, you can contact me and I will pass on concerns to the planning department.

 

Find out more:

Read more and comment on the Station Road application here

Watch the Channel 4 Dispatches programme here

Read about the Lewisham decision here

 

 

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