Will planning committee back residents? Don’t bet on it

Residents might be entitled to ask, “What’s the point of the planning committee?”

Paddy PowerOn those occasions when the planning committee does rule against a developer, and in favour of a local community, as it did in the case of The Ship pub, then council staff appear to please themselves and simply opt out of enforcing the committee’s decisions.

At Wednesday’s planning meeting, it was back to the usual routine, with business interests taking precedence of wide community interests. Nearly 300 residents had signed a petition opposing the application, and they were backed by safety reports from the Metropolitan Police and with their case made by Bensham Manor councillor Jamie Audsley. They argued against permission being granted for yet another bookmaker’s shop in a concentrated area.

The planning officer’s report claimed that bookmakers represent less than 4 per cent of high street businesses in Thornton Heath, and so the committee voted unanimously in favour of Paddy Power opening up in a prime site.

Council planning committees are made up of elected councillors who are offered advice from paid council officials. Councillors have long complained about their impotency to intervene on many planning matters, but a change of policy from the communities department earlier this year seemed to indicate that councils would be better able to exercise some discretion on planning issues for the high streets.

“The government wants to give local communities a proper voice on the issue so that their views are taken into account. The new rules will put bookmakers in a new planning class so that local authorities are able to consider and scrutinise applications for new betting shops and refuse them if they want,” is the Government’s new stance.

Councillor Jamie Audsley: Croydon's exam results were the elephant in the room at education scrutiny meeting last week

Councillor Jamie Audsley: argued against another bookies

The Thornton Heath Paddy Power was Croydon’s planning committee’s first opportunity to use this policy change.

Audsley cited the London Plan, which says that “… clustering of particular leisure uses in town centres can provide a visitor attraction, promote regeneration and boost economic growth and employment, provided it is managed effectively and does not reach saturation levels beyond which it has unacceptable negative impacts on a centre’s vitality, viability, amenity and associated community safety.

“In such circumstances, the planning process can help manage such negative impacts. Over-concentrations of betting shops and hot food takeaways can give rise to particular concerns.”

A resident, David Fell, submitted the petition and his own experiences of the impact of the existing bookmakers around Thornton Heath. “Walk from my house in Thornton Heath Pond to the leisure centre, about a half-mile stretch, I walk past a Betfred, two William Hills, a Paddy Power, two Corals… not exactly short of choice.

“I’ve experienced significant levels of street drinking, and anti-social behaviour takes place outside a number of the existing betting establishments. Urination and defecation. Why don’t we sort out existing problems before adding to them?”

The proposed additional Paddy Power will be opening on a corner site right by the leisure centre and opposite the clock tower. It will be the seventh bookmakers’ along Fell’s short walk. But for Croydon’s planning committee – comprised of Tory as well as Labour councillors – the associated drinking, urinating and shitting is not “saturation levels beyond which it has unacceptable negative impacts on a centre’s vitality, viability, amenity and associated community safety”.

Not even evidence from the Metropolitan Police swayed the committee. Audsley told the planning committee, “The Metropolitan Police crime prevention design advisor has raised concerns that such a proposal will cause additional crime and anti-social behaviour in the immediate vicinity as a result of increased gambling.”

He also read a report from a local beat constable, who said, “Another bookmaker would be too much, it would cause significant crime problems for the area.”

Fell summed up: “Residents are against it, local police against it… Everyone knows it will make our area more unsafe – I urge you to reject this application.”

He could be forgiven for thinking he might as well have not bothered.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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13 Responses to Will planning committee back residents? Don’t bet on it

  1. This is yet another sad example of the pusillanimous mercantile mindset of our local councillors.

    All that counts for them is business, business, business and any thought of how to build, maintain and sustain a local community for local people is totally irrelevant. It’s an odd connection but this is one of the reasons the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as a leading contender for the leadership of the Labour Party is both so welcome and so unsurprising.

    People are becoming totally fed up with plastic politicians, all of whom closely resemble each other, for whom electability is the sole mantra. When someone like Corbyn emerges, someone who doesn’t give a fig for party orders or current fashions and who still has clear principles by which he stands, it is like a breath of fresh air. For all the others, both aspirant and elected, Principles is only a fashion retailer, no more.

    • Not sure I agree on the substantive point, Arno, that this planning permission was granted by the councillors for business reasons.

      There will be Business Rates from the site, whatever type of business occupies it. It makes little difference in that respect.

      It is, possibly, just another straw in the wind of indicators of who is really running our council: not the councillors, but the “public servant” officers, who directed the planning committee to their decision.

  2. I thoroughly agree about who is running the council: it seems to me more and more that the councillors do the bidding of the Business Committee, aka Local Government Officers, and the Officers are not there, as they should be , basically to implement the policy laid down by the majority party. That raises one obvious question that I won’t comment on.
    You’re right, of course, that one Business Rate is like another. But one Business is not like another. If they wanted to build a community in South Norwood the Officers and the Councillors would be defining what sort of business the area needs ( they’d need some sort of plan for that) and then actively going out and seeking tenants. Lots of other councils do that (See resurgent Hull). It seems to me that the only policy that is currently active is Business Is Good, Any Business at All…regardless of need or consequences.

  3. mraemiller says:

    “such a proposal will cause additional crime and anti-social behaviour in the immediate vicinity as a result of increased gambling.”

    Is there any evidential basis for this beyond personal perception?
    I mean has anyone ever proved this statistically.
    I’ve never seen betting shops as crime hubs just a source of depressed people and free but rubbish pens.
    Obviously if every shop is a betting shop that is undesirable but I’m not sure the gaming industry is the great Satan it is often made out to be.
    With so much online gambling you can avoid tax on it’s a wonder they keep going at all…?

    • It’s a police report, rather than a “personal perception”. So it is undoubtedly based on their crime reports.
      As Jamie Audsley noted in his speech, it is not an objection to betting, or betting shops per se. The objection is to there being yet another betting shop in an area with an overwhelming number of betting shops already.
      Your observation about online betting business betrays the cynicism of the bookmakers establishing these shops: they are making their dough from the very lucrative fixed odds machines. Thanks for that, Tessa Jowell.

  4. joeycan says:

    On the coat-tails of Arno’s latest observation, I wonder if the Paddy Powers, William Hills and Kentucky Fried business chains actually own the sites they operate from or if they, through their purchasing power, can afford to pay the rents which some rapacious landlords seek to charge. Furthermore, and this is a worrying thought, do these big chains pass on to the individual shop managers an overhead representing a proportion of the rental, thus making it even more difficult to run a profitable business.

    The Council, if they are interested in community creation rather than just the appropriation of business rates, should be offering start-up discounts for new, more varied,businesses and monitor closely the interrelation between what the new shop-owner pays to them and how much advantage his landlord will take through increasing HIS rent because of the shop-owners lower rate to the Council.

  5. There’s a few assumptions here that are not necessarily correct. “Arno” says “Officers are not there, as they should be , basically to implement the policy laid down by the majority party” – all local Govt. employees are required to fulfill their roles independent of their own political views. They are there to give independent advice and guidance, even if this is not what the current political administration wants. Furthermore, even if the planning officer personally agreed with the views that another betting shop was not what they wanted to see, they would have to have clear, evidence based reasons to recommend refusal that could stand up to scrutiny and challenge/appeal within the legislative framework they have to work within. Their advice can be ignored by the planning committee, the officer is not the one with the final say, that is the local councillors on the committee. In this case they chose to ignore their fellow cllr and the representations made. Equally the views that betting shops = street urination/defecation surprise me, as I have found in fact that in the current climate of cuts affecting everywhere including our high streets that one of the few places that have toilet facilities that are open from early to late are betting shops. That and McDonalds. Try finding a public toilet that is (a) open, and (b) one you would use at 8.00 a.m. I bet (pun intended) you will end up in Paddy Power or it’s like. It is ironic that these are the business types singled out as being “detrimental” to local communities. When I am out and about early I now rely on them for their facilities, and whilst I do not take the opportunity to gamble whilst there, most now sell refreshments such as tea & coffee and I pop in and get a drink and use the toilet. On the basis that market forces dictate what shops can and do make a profit, it must be that betting shops can and do make a living in this area, because local residents use them. Should the demand not sustain profits they will close. It may be that that one or two new large shops may well put smaller shops with fewer facilities out of profit/business, maintaining market supply against demand. Even if they don’t – what is better – an empty shop with flyposters/litter etc. in the doorway in your high street, or an actual trading business? Finally the assumption that betting shops = more betting = anti-social behaviour is false. You can make bets on your t.v, on your mobile phone, on your laptop/computer, over the phone, in the pub etc. Refusing a betting shop will not reduce the propensity of those who want to gamble or misbehave to do so.

  6. Great. Now we face the prospect of streets lined with Betting Shops and McDonalds where we can all pop in, use the loo, relax, have a drink and go on our way without, if will pardon the execrable pun, ever spending a penny.

    It’s fairly clear that if that were the case they would be even more popular than they are. There are plenty of people who can’t or won’t walk into a Betting Shop alone. They are not cheerful, friendly, neighbourhood establishments in any way, form or shape at all.

    But all this misses the essential point I was trying to make and that i that the council should be proactive in its planning and not simply sitting back on its ample loins waiting for whatever business feels like it to make a bid. If it takes the line that any business on the High Street is good business then any sense of real community can never come into existence or survive: High Streets full of nothing but Betting Shops, Pound Shops and Chicken Shops of one sort of another do not make for sensible communal living. There is no sense of belonging, only one of using and being used. If you don’t feel you belong then…..do I need to go on?

    I was a Local Government Officer most of my working life and ended up at a pretty high level.
    If councillors are devoid of ideas, drive, principles, policies, will, insight or motivation ( singly or in any combination at all) then officers, who are the real professionals, will step in and run the place.

    I suggested earlier you look at Hull for planning. Look at Italy for government.

  7. Nick Davies says:

    Steven mentioned it above but it needs highlighting. The big problem with betting shops is FOBTs – Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. You can, and people do, lose £100 in a push of a button. Thousands in a few minutes. They are said to be as addictive as crack cocaine and those who become addicted to them resort to crime to feed their habit. They tend to be attractive to those who can least afford to use them, and lead to severe social problems.

    All those bookies aren’t about having a flutter on the horses or dogs. Nor providing a sit down and a cup of tea. If they were there’d be the same number there were ten years ago. They’re about cynically making huge profits out of the least fortunate in society.

    It is worth looking at some of the evidence detailed here

    http://www.stopthefobts.org/the-evidence/

    • mraemiller says:

      I used to go late night drinking in the [REDACTED] Casino because the beer was cheap and they were the only places open after 11pm in Westminster but the dead look in people’s eyes was enough to put you off the subsidised beer. James Bond it aint. However, I wonder to what extent gambling is a symptom not a cause of poverty.

      Mr “Not Neccessarily” mentions McDonalds …well, the police love hanging out there. At first I thought they were lazy or enjoyed a burger but evenutally an article appeared in the Star I think it was about 7 policemen all hanging out in McDonalds at the same time …it’s a place for people with no money and who aren’t allowed in pubs to hang out…. would they just drift elsewhere if it wasn’t there…?

      FOBTs …well I suppose betting shops now have to compete with Michel Harper etc over in Guildford since Tony Blair relaxed the gaming rules. If you want a laugh read up on the history of Michel Harper’s never-ending fueds with the Council over in Guildford. The gaming industry is used to being unpopular and appealing all kinds of decisions so you have to have a solid case to block them as if you just say no on a caprice they’re liable to try and get it overturned … the seedy fight hard – they have to …

      Matthew Norman’s very interesting on FOBTs…

  8. Good write up, many thanks.

    It was always going to be difficult, but the lack of an up to date plan in Croydon certainly don’t help themselves. Local authorities planning policy has got tougher towards bookies in recent years so they fact that Croydon’s plan is so badly out date means there are very few grounds on which to object. You have to ask why, over two years after they were required to, Croydon still do not have an up to date plan?

    This was only the second case under the new system whereby bookies now require planning permission (in addition to a licence) to open. Both have been waved through (this one by Croydon Council and the other by a government inspector after it was turned down by Waltham Forest). It’s early days but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to have much affect on giving local people more say on betting shops.

    I do like to have a bet occasionally and have no objection to a few bookies on the high street. However the sheer number in Thornton Heath (which must be one of the poorest parts of London) is staggering. The number of smashed windows and stools thrown around is testament to the trouble they can and do create.

  9. mraemiller says:

    One thing that no one’s mentioned is that of course one of the big changes in the gambling industry is that these days gambling debts can now be enforced. The Gambling Act 2005 changed the age old legal position of gambling debts being unenforcable. When such debts were unenforcable it severed the link between credit and gambling meaning people could on the whole only gamble with money they had and there was some incentive to glambling establisments to not encourage people to gamble too far beyond their means…?

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