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Bookmakers and Planning (Haringey)

Volume 519: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2010

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Philip Dunne.)

I am pleased to have secured this Adjournment debate on planning and betting shops in Haringey and somewhat relieved that it has coincided with the interval in the Tottenham-Werder Bremen match in which Tottenham are up 2-0, so I will speak very quickly.

Across the country, we are seeing some of the institutions that form the fabric of our local communities being taken over by big business. Pubs, community centres, independent stores and post offices are being replaced by supermarket chain stores, chain bookmakers and pay-day loan shops. The fluidity of the use classes of our high street shops currently fails to provide adequate protection for iconic premises and essential amenities, and the people of my constituency and of Haringey as a whole are paying the price.

Cultural landmarks that have been anchored in our communities for decades are evaporating and betting shops are opening in their place. In the past three years, Green lanes—the road that bisects the borough—has seen no fewer than three banks and one post office converted into bookmakers.

The latest application for a betting shop on Tottenham High road—the 10th along that stretch of road—would mean a betting shop replacing one of the most famous independent music shops in the north London area. This debate is about Haringey, but it is worth mentioning that the old Hackney town hall, which was built in 1802, is now a bookmaker’s, as is the iconic Railway Tavern opposite. That is not to say that I am against gambling—far from it. Bookmakers certainly have a place on our high street, but there is such a thing as having too many.

The consequences are not simply a change in lifestyle and a longer walk to the bank or the post office, although those need to be taken into account, but a vastly different neighbourhood. In my view, it sends the wrong message in the midst of an economic downturn if the people who are in need of financial advice find a virtual roulette wheel where they once could have received advice on saving. My constituency has 39 bookmakers but no book shops. What message does that send about what we value in our community?

Community services and iconic businesses need protection if we are to achieve vibrant and sustainable high streets. I fully support the Protection of Local Services (Planning) Bill, which is promoted by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), because it would give councils precisely that power. In Haringey, the failure of planning laws has meant more than simply the loss of essential local amenities; planning laws have allowed betting shops to cluster and dominate an entire commercial area. That undermines the sustainability of high streets and limits the diversity of footfall.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. His diagnosis of the problem is absolutely right, but as a Minister in the Department that implemented the Gambling Act 2005, does he feel remorse that he lacked the foresight to see this situation coming down the road, and that he rejected representations made in this House on precisely that issue?

I am coming to that, but I am happy to acknowledge that there were mistakes in the 2005 Act. When the hon. Gentleman reads the Hansard reports of debates on that measure, he will find virtually no discussion of bookmakers. As he might remember, although he was not a Member of the House at the time, the debate was predominantly about super-casinos. That is precisely why the problems I am talking about came in through the back door. That situation undermines the sustainability of high streets, limits the diversity of footfall and acts as a deterrent to any prospective business that is looking to invest in our area. We sacrifice the diversity and vibrancy of a high street by allowing an increasing number of shop fronts to be occupied by the same, narrow-appealing trade.

Outside Wood Green tube station, there are five shops within 150 metres, three with the same operator. Along Green lanes there are nine gambling premises within 300 metres. As I said, this debate is about Haringey, but the problem is broader. There are 10 betting shops within 300 metres of Ealing Broadway tube station. In Chinatown in Westminster, not far from here, there are more than 60 gambling premises within a five-minute walk of the pagoda. That is unacceptable. I joined the Chinese community just two weeks ago to campaign against the law that has allowed that to happen. Chinese owners of premises and shopkeepers are being driven out of the area. Even in Guildford, which is very different to my constituency, six gaming centres have packed into the same warehouse building. Clustering is so evident that even the industry lobby group, the Association of British Bookmakers, conceded in a recent parliamentary briefing that

“in areas of high population density, shops have clustered around particular high street locations.”

Indeed, in an evidence session to the scrutiny committee of Haringey council, betting shop operators outlined why clustering is inevitable where there is an unfettered market, as is currently the case. Operators poach each other’s development staff, and knowledge about the profitable locations is shared throughout the industry. Where a successful betting shop exists, rivals congregate nearby to share the profits. Clustering of betting shops is inevitable when regulation is as loose as it is.

It is also worth recognising what bookmakers have become over the past few years. What they offer is a far cry from the romantic vision of placing a small bet on the grand national. The main trade for bookmakers is through fixed-odds betting terminals, which are gaming machines that allow people to play casino games with casino stakes, but at three times the speed. They are highly addictive, allowing users to place stakes of £100 a time, and are known as the crack cocaine of betting for that reason. Such machines are what make betting shops profitable, and the limit of four per shop is what makes further betting premises viable. Betting shops increasingly resemble casinos, except that they do not require the same levels of regulation. Are we comfortable with the fact that a limitless number of betting shops can open up anywhere on our high streets? Are we comfortable that there are five such mini-casinos within 150 metres of the gates of John Loughborough secondary school, particularly given the industry’s poor record on age verification? By allowing betting shops to proliferate and cluster, we risk normalising a form of gambling that is dangerously addictive and socially destructive.

In Haringey, 2,000 residents have signed petitions against further betting shops. The local traders association has come out against further such shops opening, and tackling clustering receives cross-party support from local councillors. The issue is constantly brought up at local area assemblies, and people such as Ian Sygrave and Peter Lorimer have mounted campaigns to marshal the energy of local residents. Campaign groups such as Find Your Voice have held rallies outside proposed sites in Tottenham, and the people of Harringay online, the online community forum for those around the Green lanes area, have documented the changes to their local community through photos and maps. However, that consensus and energy cannot translate into action because the people of Haringey find themselves powerless.

The clustering of betting shops in Haringey is a consequence of poor licensing legislation. The debate on the Gambling Act 2005 concerned itself too much with super-casinos and their licensing, but neglected to consider the wider impact of removing demand tests for new betting shops. We are left with a licensing framework that requires licensing authorities to “aim to permit”, yet prevents residents, councillors or interested parties from opposing a premise licence on the basis of how many exist already and gives no scope for considering the cumulative impact of additional premises. It is a licensing framework that burdens councils with legal costs of up to £10,000 if their rejection of a licence is overturned on appeal to a magistrates court, and creates an active disincentive for councils to oppose licences.

However flawed the licensing system may be, those flaws manifest themselves in planning. That is certainly how the Government have advised Haringey council to handle the matter: the Minister’s colleague, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, advised Haringey to pursue an article 4 direction. However, council officials estimate that such a plan could take years to research and implement, and the council could be liable to compensate the businesses affected. That would take up resources and money—resources and money that are obviously scarce at a time of considerable cuts to local authority budgets. I therefore urge the Minister and his colleagues to make real changes to planning laws and give local residents and local councils the power that they need to tackle clustering.

The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I used to be a councillor in the London borough of Haringey, so I have an interest in the issue and the area. Is he aware that in 1997, 42% of planning decisions were taken by local councillors, enabling them to stand up for their communities? Ten years later, under Labour, that figure had fallen from 42 to 10%.

The hon. Gentleman chooses to use this debate to make partisan points. I am saying that this is a cross-party issue, and I am sorry that when he was on Haringey council he did not see it as such. Back in 1997, we did not have the number and clustering of betting shops that we have now. Clearly there is a problem, and we must deal with it.

Current law—the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987—groups betting shops in the A2 category alongside banks, credit unions and estate agents. A betting shop may open in any premises previously occupied by any of these without the need for planning permission. Do we really believe that betting shops have the same economic impact as banks and credit unions? Do they really cater to the same broad range of customers? Do they both attract similar levels of antisocial behaviour? Yes, they share the characteristics of being low-stock, high-turnover businesses, but do we really believe that a social enterprise service office can pay the same levels of rent as a multinational bookmaking company?

Even that is not the full story. Current planning law allows betting shops to open in restaurants and cafés under class use A3, in drinking establishments under A4 and takeaways under A5, without planning permission. More than 45% of shop frontage in the borough is open to betting shops to move into without planning permission being required.

I will not give way.

I do not want my constituency to turn into the sort of place that can be seen in some urban areas of the United States, with a predominance of liquor shops polluting the area and causing real problems where there is genuine need. I raise this issue not from a partisan position but openly admitting that mistakes were made in relaxing the rules and that there has been a lack of scrutiny here and in the other place. Given the limitations of the licensing framework, the aim to permit, the inability to consider the cumulative impact and the onus on planning to prevent clustering and saturation occurring, it is clear that the current A2 classification does not provide councils and residents with the powers they need to address these concerns.

Will the Minister consider a revision of the classification of betting shops from A2 to sui generis, a category unto itself. After all, the diversity of footfall that they attract is unique. Their economic impact in an area is wholly different from that of almost any other establishment, particularly those in the A2 class. A sui generis planning category for betting shops would not be revolutionary. Casinos and amusement arcades, which have similar characteristics, are classed as such. Being able to consider each planning application in kind would enable councils and residents to consider the cumulative impact of an additional betting shop, and they could manage the proportion of frontage occupied by them.

I want to hear from the Minister, so I will not give way at this stage.

Planning law does not exist to prevent gambling, but it should be able to manage it in the context of achieving a sustainable and diverse shopping area. I welcome the Government’s instincts for localism, and I want the concerns of the citizens of Haringey, Chinatown, Hackney, Guildford, Lewisham and countless other areas reflected in the decentralisation and localism Bill.

Is it acceptable that the full force of local democracy and Haringey’s civil society can make hardly a dent in the gambling industry’s ability to open new premises in the borough? That is the simple question for the Minister. I hope that he will incorporate the proposals made by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty to allow communities to protect the local services they hold dear. Will he consider giving communities the power to manage the businesses that communities hold less dear, and which indeed threaten the identity and vibrancy of their area? Will he allow neighbourhood plans to limit the percentage of shop frontage available to betting shops?

I clearly have no connection with Haringey. My constituency is in rural Somerset and has coastal towns at Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea. Burnham-on-Sea, in common with probably most town centres and high streets, suffers from a proliferation of betting shops. On the coast, there are also a number of gaming machine shops specifically dedicated to that kind of activity. Surely there must be a way—either in the localism Bill or perhaps by local authorities arriving at a definition of what they want—of allowing local authorities to insist that these kinds of shops are situated at first-floor level or above. That would get rid of the problem of people, especially young people, passing along a high street and seeing the enormous shop fronts which the hon. Gentleman has complained about. If we put those businesses on the first or second floor or above, they would need to find ways for people to access them under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, but we would be left with only a shop doorway—

I have huge sympathy with the hon. Lady’s point, and I hope that we can form an alliance across the House. She is absolutely right to draw attention to young people, because the last survey was deeply worrying as it showed the large number of young people who found their way into those premises. Indeed, if she visits my constituency in the middle of the day and looks through the window of these places, she will see young people playing on the machines there, which is deeply worrying.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. He is familiar with my constituency, and I hope he will recognise the strength of feeling from all parties in the House that the present legislative framework is not right and that people need better local determination on the proliferation, clustering and dominance of these premises on our high streets and in our town centres.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this debate on planning law and bookmakers in Haringey. I know that he has strong feelings about the issue; he has spoken to me about it on the telephone and met the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who is responsible for decentralisation and planning, to talk about it. The debate has raised some important issues about balancing sustainable development with community needs, and I am pleased to be able to respond.

I shall deal first with the planning process. Reference has been made to the planning and licensing regimes, and it is worth remembering that, although there is an overlap between the two, they are separate and distinct regimes that, in some measure, fulfil different purposes. The right hon. Gentleman was particularly concerned about problems that might arise in the planning process where planning permission was not required to change the use of a building to another use. I will come on to that, but it might help if I first explain the context of these issues.

To achieve the aim of balanced and sustainable communities, we need homes, jobs, leisure facilities and places to shop, in locations where they can be accessed by all. That is why we focus new development and activities in the cities, towns and villages in which we live. However, we accept that tensions occasionally arise from locating different types of development and land uses next to one another or where particular uses become concentrated. The right hon. Gentleman referred to those tensions, as did my hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) and for Wells (Tessa Munt). It is therefore important to have a planning system that balances the need to allow business to grow with protections for the community from negative impacts of development. We must also remember that we often have to deal with business uses that are controversial but also lawful, and a balance has to be struck in those cases as well. The planning process seeks to ensure that our communities get the right type of development, located in the right location, to maximise benefits for everyone and, as far as possible, prevent negative impacts.

Against that background, let me move on to the subject of the debate—specifically, the problems that can arise when planning permission is not needed because the use classes order allows one type of property to be converted into another type without planning permission being required. I have to explain the background to the use classes order, the purpose of which is often misunderstood. The order was introduced to remove unnecessary planning applications from the planning system and to speed up that system. The use classes order is a concept that has been established for many years. It groups together uses that have similar land-use impacts and characteristics. It is limited in that sense. Broader issues such as those to which the right hon. Gentleman referred may arise, but that is not what the use classes order is intended to deal with. Changes of use within a class are not considered to be development, so they do not require planning permission.

The relevant class for our discussion tonight is the A2 use class, which includes a range of different properties used in general terms for financial services, including banks, betting shops and estate agents. One can argue about how these things break down, but the fact remains that these are distinct from the different use class that would include fast-food or retail shops. Of course, I accept that two developments, even if characterised together within the same use class, might not have precisely the same operating characteristics—shops can have different opening and delivery times, for example.

The planning system grants further flexibility by allowing some changes of use between classes to take place without the need for planning application. This applies where the impacts of the proposed use are considered to be less than those of the existing use. In this case, hot-food takeaways, pubs and restaurants can all be converted to the A2 financial services class without the requirement for planning application. One can see the logic in that the impact of a bank or a building society might be less than that of takeaway—there may not be the same cooking smells, for example, and in this day and age I suspect fewer people come out of the bank singing cheerfully at closing time than out of a public house. The impact is less, so no planning application is required.

The key difference is that local authorities have the power to remove that bit of the freedom of movement—the conversion to something that has a lesser impact. That is the article 4 direction to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. If we remove that article 4 direction, a planning application is required. That can be done by the local planning authority if there are local concerns about such developments. That is why this option was available and has been suggested in respect of the situation in Haringey.

Does the Minister accept that it is very costly to proceed through an article 4? The main point is that bookmakers should clearly not be in the A2 class with banks. They should be in a separate class of their own. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman understands that because he concentrates his remarks on banks and estate agents. Bookmakers are wholly different; surely they should be somewhere near to casinos and amusement parks.

Two or perhaps three points arise. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s observation that his local council thinks it would take years to produce the policy for an article 4 direction. I can see nothing on the face of the system that should require such a long period. Secondly, there is compensation. We must have a rule that applies to all article 4 directions because such a direction is—justifiably or otherwise—an interference or at least a restriction on the proprietary rights of the owner of the property. It limits what the owner can do with that property, which can affect its value, so it is reasonable and proportionate that there should be compensation. We cannot say that that should be any different for an article 4 direction that applies to only one type of use as opposed to another. That would be neither just nor proportionate.

A case can be made, but various people will have different value judgments about the social, moral, ethical or economic worth of certain types of business uses. The use classes order, however, deals with land uses rather than making value judgments about certain types of business uses.

On a pier, for example, there is often a discrete area where people might expect to see such activity taking place. I assume that piers will not fall within the general conditions relating to high streets and town centres to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and I have referred.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, and also the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay. We must accept that the planning system is not intended to deal with all issues of social contention to which value judgments apply. There is a separate licensing system which, to some degree, handles such matters as well, but the planning system, and in particular the use classes order, may not be the best vehicle to deal with what is a legitimate issue of social debate: the worth or otherwise of certain legal activities. That is why I think there is a difficulty in the right hon. Gentleman’s proposition about a sui generis use class order. I accept that some of his points have force, and I accept that his concerns and those of his constituents are genuine. There are tensions in cases such as this, and the face of a high street can change if one particular use comes to dominate. However, as I have said, we cannot expect the planning system to be capable of solving all community issues. It is necessary to find a balance.

We have examined the position, and while I accept that in some cases difficulties can arise, I do not think it necessary to consider whether a national approach would be proportionate when there is no evidence to suggest that the proliferation of betting shops is a widespread problem that requires national legislation. There is also no evidence to suggest that banks are withdrawing from high streets because of betting shops, although they may be doing so for other reasons.

I beg to differ, given the quantity of casework with which I deal involving increasingly younger groups of people who have to search for help from the citizens advice bureau and various Christian organisations —I met representatives of one in Cheddar, in my constituency, on Saturday—because of disproportionate amounts of debt that originated from gambling.

I am not suggesting that that is not an issue, but it is necessary to establish whether the planning law or the licensing regime is appropriate. My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have expressed willingness to monitor the extent to which the number and concentration of betting shops have changed since the Gambling Act 2005 came into force, and to establish whether there is a causal link between undesirable social impacts and any proliferation. They will continue to work with local authorities to that end.

Finally, a localism Bill will give local authorities more discretion in regard to the way in which they reflect local need in the planning process. Before too long, we will present proposals relating both to the Bill and to associated planning reforms. I do not suggest that that will automatically provide a silver bullet either, but we will keep these matters under review.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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That the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 25 October, be approved.

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Health and safety

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