/ Money

Bookies making our high streets bland and boring

William Hill betting shop

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diversity of high streets and town centres across the capital, with residents finding that free financial advice has been replaced by the virtual roulette wheel.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.


I live in north west London and my high street suffers from the same infestation of betting shops. But, I must say that it seems to me that it’s in the poorer areas where this appears to be more of a problem. I don’t really see the same problem affecting an area such as Chiswick, for instance.

The anti-social affect of having umpteen betting shops on a short stretch of high street is one that I feel is highly understated. In my area, aspiration is very low, with many people living on benefits and out of work. Betting shops are a temptation for those who feel at the end of their rope. If the temptation is practically unavoidable at every turn, how is this helping those living in a low socio-ecconomic area?

Of course, as the article mentions, having several of the same type of shop on the same high street erodes the character of an area not to mention creating a high street that fails to provide establishments that offer much-needed services to the local area – butcher, baker, grocer etc. Planning applications should mean that shops are required to demonstrate a need for their outlet in a specific area – surely that’s why we have a planning process in the first place?

Where is the benefit of so many of the same type of shop? Wouldn’t we say the same if our poorest high streets were over-populated with any other type of establishment?

Surely we should be far more concerned about the effect of supermarkets on the high street than a few more bookies?

That’s exactly what Hannah Jolliffe argued in a previous Conversation on ‘cloned towns’ https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/are-you-living-in-a-clone-town/ Though bookies are part and parcel of the problem, surely?

At least supermarkets offer something useful to the community. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in favour of the Tesco Take-Over but I feel that bookies have a disruptive and divisive affect on the fabric of a community – they are exclusive rather than inclusive and are plainly geared towards a certain socio-economic group, not in any way enhancing a locality.

Incidentally, if I had eight supermarkets on my short stretch of high street I’d be equally disgruntled – it just so happens that we’ve got eight bookies and one supermarket!

We have a lot more shops selling National Lottery tickets than betting shops. Both exploit people who cannot afford to gamble. It is more important that we address that problem than worry about the appearance of our high streets.