Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets are campaigning to increase local authority powers to control the spread of betting shops in the High Street. At a council meeting last week, the group urged Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman to sign up to a cross-borough and cross-party request to the Government that would give local councils a bigger say and veto in planning laws.
The Sustainable Communities Act allows councils to make proposals to Government for changes in the law. This would help them respond to the feelings of local residents opposed to the spread of the gambling industry and large supermarket chains on the High Street. The Labour Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, is using the act to ask the government to create a specific planning category for betting shops.
The drive and initiative for these changes and the Act itself have been developed by pressure from the Local Works campaign and is being run by the Unlock Democracy pressure group. Since the council vote, Local Works have set up a campaign website urging their supporters to persuade the Tower Hamlets Mayor to take action.
At present, nineteen other London boroughs have signed up, including the East London Line boroughs of Lewisham, Croydon and Hackney.
National Co-ordinator of Local Works, Steve Shaw, spoke to East London Lines about the challenges the campaign is facing in Tower Hamlets.
“We are still waiting to hear if whether Tower Hamlets will support [the proposal]…,” Shaw said, “and we are politely calling on the mayor to do just that.”
He also spoke about problems with betting shops in the city, stating “The problem you’ve got is that betting shops are concentrated in areas where there are poorer, more vulnerable communities. That is their business model, and that is a fact. You just have to look at the statistics on where betting shops are.”
Shaw also said that Hackney has the highest concentration of betting shops in the country.
To restrict the proliferation of betting shops, Local Works are also aiding in developing a new planning category for betting shops.
“We need to change the rules,” Shaw said. “Businesses will operate in whatever rules set we create.”
Because of the current classification of betting shops, Shaw said that “councils can’t say ‘no,’” and added that only central government can change the table.
Britain’s leading betting shop companies have been fighting back with Ladbrokes producing a briefing arguing why the campaign against betting shops is wrong.
East London Lines sound report on this story by Lucy Johnson