Local authorities are demanding strengthened planning powers to tackle the clustering of betting offices and other premises on high streets.
The Local Government Association claimed that councils were "powerless" to prevent betting shops setting up. It described the existing power to introduce Article 4 directions as unwieldy, bureaucratic, costly and complex.
The notice requirements and the risk of local authorities having to pay compensation were “an obvious disincentive to the widespread use of Article 4 Directions by local planning authorities, which undermines the effectiveness of this measure”, it added.
The LGA also pointed out that Article 4 directions could only be used across a whole use class, “meaning they cannot even be used when a bank becomes a betting shop”.
Smith Square is now calling for the introduction of a new local planning use class for premises of potential future local concern.
The proposal would allow local planning authorities to place any type of premises which is posing a local challenge or priority to the area into this ‘umbrella’ use-class. Local authorities would then be able to attach special controls.
The LGA said the ‘super’ planning class could be used to tackle betting offices or fast-food takeaways. It could also be used to avoid the over-concentration of supermarkets in a particular part of town or to allow a greater diversity of smaller, independent retailers.
Other proposals for boosting local high streets include giving councils more control over local transport and the means to take over empty shops.
The LGA made its call for additional powers after publishing the results of a survey it commissioned which suggested public backing for an overhaul of planning rules.
A poll of 1,875 adults found that:
- More than two thirds (68%) were “against existing rules that allow betting shops to take over banks and building societies’ premises without planning permission”;
- More than three quarters (76%) wanted central government to give councils the powers they have been calling for;
- Only 12% disagreed with the suggestion that the ‘clustering’ of high numbers of similar premises was having a negative impact on the vibrancy of local high streets;
- The clustering of adult sex shops/strip clubs and betting shops were cited by 57% and 50% of respondents respectively as a major concern. Other types of premises to prompt concern were fast food takeaways and tanning salons;
- Women and older people were particularly concerned about strip clubs and betting shops.
LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “Councils want high streets to thrive and are on the side of local people and are ready to put a stop to high numbers of unsavoury takeaways, betting shops and strip clubs where there is a demand to do so. High streets across the UK have suffered a cardiac arrest and it is now time to let local authorities step in and deliver the necessary life support.”
London boroughs have been particularly concerned about the proliferation of betting shops. Hackney, for example, has 64 – three times the national average for a local authority area.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote to the Communities Secretary last year, calling for changes in planning laws to prevent clustering.