Walk down any London high-street and odds are you’ll go past a betting shop. Yet, with some of the capital’s poorest areas reaching saturation point, are we in danger of being swamped by the bookmakers?
Living in north London, I’m never too far from a bookie. Just down from me on Tottenham High Road, there are 15 betting shops.
So, if I fancy a flutter, there’s absolutely no shortage of options. Just don’t ask me where the local bookshop is – I haven’t a clue.
Why are there so many betting shops?
London now has over 2,100 betting shops, up from around 1,700 ten years ago. Haringey alone has got 72, while nearby Hackney has 70. Tottenham itself has 39 betting shops, but not one bookshop.
Now, I know that the ‘death of the high-street’ is a frequently reported civil tragedy, but do we really need so many places to gamble away our cash? Wouldn’t we be better off with shops and local services that add something more to the community?
Before the 2005 Gambling Act, bookmakers had limitations on where they could open up. Distance rules meant they had to prove demand in court to get permission to open on a busy high street, or next to another betting shop. Since the rules were relaxed, there’s been much greater freedom of movement.
Stop homogenising our high streets
Current planning laws also favour the bookies, classing them in the same bracket as banks and building societies. This means local councils often find it hard to reject applications for new shops, even if there’s already a glut of them in the same vicinity. In fact, many new shops have actually replaced the former banks and building societies on the high street, with even the old town hall in Hackney falling victim.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone is a keen campaigner on the issue, arguing for a separate planning class for betting shops so that councils and residents have more power over their numbers and locations.
He also believes the ‘clustering’ of betting shops undermines the character and diversity of high streets and town centres across the capital, with residents finding that free financial advice has been replaced by the virtual roulette wheel.
Clearly there needs to be a balance. Part of what I really like about London and my own local area is its huge diversity, but it’s not just a London issue. In my mind, any efforts to block the homogenisation of our high streets should be welcomed.