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Government to require planning application on change of use to betting shop

Gambling companies will be required to submit a planning application for new betting shops where there is to be a change of use, the Government has announced.

Councils have long called for a change to the current position where a betting shop is in the same category as a bank or estate agent. This means the shop can be opened when a premises becomes vacant, without the need for planning permission.

In a report, Gambling protections and controls, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said a smaller planning use class containing betting shops would mean that in future where it is proposed to convert a bank, building society or estate agent into a betting shop, a planning application would be required.

The Government will also remove the ability for other premises such as restaurants and pubs to change use to a betting shop without planning permission.

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The DCMS said the change would return powers to local planning authorities, and enable them to consider the planning application in accordance with their local plan.

A consultation on the details of the proposals will take place as part of a wider consultation on change of use in the summer of 2014.

The Department said it wanted local authorities to feel empowered to protect their communities from the potentially harmful impacts that gambling can have by holding operators to their social responsibility commitments. "The Government wants local authorities to make best use of the licensing and planning powers available to them."

The DCMS said it intended to promote new guidance to local authorities already being prepared by the Gambling Commission advising authorities how they can achieve this.

The Department announced that:

  • Betting firms will be required to show how they are complying with social responsibility codes when they apply for a licence;
  • It would ensure that controls on gambling advertising provided enough protection – “especially to children and the vulnerable”;
  • It would work with industry to explore how a Think 25 initiative could help prevent under age access to gambling'
  • A £2m programme funded by industry to promote responsible gambling will be established and launched this summer.

The report said that there would also be a range of enhanced player protection measures in relation to fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

These include requiring FOBT customers who want to bet over £50 in one play to pay over the counter before they can begin to play “meaning that they have to interact with staff”

The rules will also be changed so that at the start of play machine users must be presented with a choice to set limits on how much they want to spend and how long they want to play for. The voluntary self-exclusion system is to be strengthened as well.

DCMS Minister Helen Grant said: “We want there to be a gambling sector that is vibrant and responsible. The Government wants to make sure the industry is putting player protection and social responsibility at the heart of their businesses.”

Planning Minister Nick Boles added: “This Government is taking action to support healthy and vibrant local high streets. This is part of a wider set of measures designed to get empty and redundant buildings back into productive use and make it easier for valued town centre businesses like shops, banks and cafés to open new premises, while giving councils greater powers to tackle the harm to local amenity caused by a concentration of particular uses.”

The Local Government Association, which has campaigned on the issue, welcomed the DCMS’ announcements, saying the plans would “help areas desperate to protect high streets at risk of being over-run by betting shops”.

But it added that there was a need to ensure that changes to address the issue of betting shop clustering did not have unintended consequences for high streets by removing councils’ controls over other types of premises.

The Association also called on the Department to move forward with the consultation and implementation as soon as possible.

Cllr Tony Page, LGA licensing spokesman, said: “Communities and councils have consistently called for tougher powers to address problems caused by the proliferation of betting shops and FOBTs so we are pleased the Government has listened to our concerns and is taking action. We need to understand the detail of how these proposals will work in practice, and when they will take effect, but this could be a significant step in the right direction.”

He added: “Councils are not anti-bookies, and understand that betting shops can be an important part of local communities that create jobs for local people. However, we know how concerned people are by clusters of betting shops taking over their local high street, and there are also fears that people losing money through Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are turning to payday lenders and loan sharks to pay off debts or fund their gambling.”

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