LGA demands ‘tough licensing powers’ for local councils

4 February 2014

The UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) has called for “tough licensing powers” to be handed to local councils to protect their business and communities from the influx of betting shops.

The organisation, which represents more than 370 English and Welsh councils, said that the government should reform the current licensing system to include toughening up powers to tackle the issue of betting shop clustering.

The LGA said that changes made to development planning rules last year now make it easier for gambling companies to convert existing buildings into betting shops without the need for planning permission.

Councils also remain restricted by licensing powers that do not allow them to take into account the number of betting shops already in an area or the economic and social impact they may have.

The LGA is now calling on the government to allow councils to consider a “cumulative impact” when making licensing decisions for gambling facilities, a move that would force betting firms to prove that new shops would not have a negative impact on local people, communities or businesses.

“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,” LGA licensing spokesperson councillor Tony Page said.

“Planning and licensing controls are supposed to ensure new shops or business will benefit an area but the current system is preventing councils from acting on community concerns. The result is many of our high streets becoming saturated with betting shops and councils left powerless to act to limit the number opening up in their area.

“Licensing laws must be updated to allow councils to consider the impact a new betting shop would have on their local economy and existing businesses. This would protect the power of local communities and democratically-elected councillors to shape their area.”

As reported by iGaming business, Ralph Topping, chief executive officer of bookmaker William Hill, also recently spoke out about the problems of clustering and called for local councils to be handed more power.

The LGA said that it would also be writing to Fred Done, chief executive of bookmaker Betfred, to take up his invitation to set up a gambling industry and taskforce to address such concerns.

“Betting industry firms like William Hill and Betfred have come out in support of tougher powers for councils and we are keen to work with them further,” Page said.

“The government must now also join us around the table and commit to reforming the licensing powers available to local people and their councils to take decisions that are right for their communities.”

Related article: William Hill chief Topping calls for a curb on UK betting shops