COUNCILS are set to be handed new powers to stop betting shops blighting high streets.
Gloucester has its fair share of these outlets but local authorities will soon be allowed to cap the number of booking shops which open in town and city centres across the country.
Measures are being drawn up by ministers, reports say, and the reforms are expected to be unveiled before Easter after the Government was called to curb the number of shops which have high stakes gambling machines.
Mark Owen, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses for Gloucestershire and the South West, told the Citizen how pleased he was that the number of shops in the high street of the city is below the national average but added: “There are still some patches we need to work on and we need to ensure that we have a good retail offering rather than too many charity shops, betting shops and cheaper outlets.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, has called for changes to the licensing system to limit the growth of betting premises.
Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, has also backed calls for councils to be handed greater powers to block new betting shops where there are existing clusters.
Changes to planning rules last year made it easier for bookmakers to convert empty shops on the high street without needing permission.
Over the last decade, the number of betting shops in some areas has doubled. Campaigners against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), accused firms of opening more shops to get round limits on the number of machines in each.
Ralph Topping said that he backed calls for councils to be handed greater powers to block new betting shops where there are existing clusters.
Critics of the machines, which allow people to wager up to £100 a spin every 20 seconds, say they are highly addictive and have made casino-style gambling accessible on the high street.
Britain’s 33,000 FOBTs have been under increasing scrutiny in recent months. The terminals are increasingly key to the bookmaking industry, now raking in more than £1bn a year in profit.
In January, David Cameron admitted that there is a ‘problem’ that needs to be addressed and offered to work with Labour to tackle the rising number of betting shops and fixed-odds betting machines.
Labour has suggested putting betting shops in a separate use class so that councils can use planning powers to control the number opening in their area.
Another proposal being considered is to allow councils to consider the ‘cumulative’ impact when making licensing decisions which would force betting companies to prove that new shops would not have a negative effect on the local economy or existing businesses.
Tony Page, the LGA’s licensing spokesman, said: “Councils aren’t anti-bookies but need powers to tackle the damage that can be caused to high streets and town centres by the clustering of betting shops.”