Changes to gambling industry welcomed by North East councils

The Government has announced local councils will get the power to control the number of betting shops on the high street

John Stillwell/PA Wire A William Hill betting shop
A William Hill betting shop

Gambling machines which take millions of pounds out of the pockets of people in the North East each year will be overhauled, the Government has promised.

Changes to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) found in betting shops include introducing a £50 maximum bet and the ability to set individual time limits for using the machines.

Local authorities will also have greater powers over the expansion of new shops as companies will now have to apply for permission if they want to change the use of a building.

Stephen Savage, head of Regulatory Services and Public Protection with Newcastle City Council, said: “Where we have got a cluster and intensity of use, we will be able to refuse planning permission.”

The dramatic review of gambling policy in the UK was announced yesterday by Planning Minister Nick Boles, who believes the move will help support vibrant and diverse local high streets.

Betting shops are currently classed as financial services, which means they are in the same planning category as banks and estate agents and can often move into premises without requiring planning permission.

Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, led a campaign alongside Northumberland County Council pressing for change to gambling law earlier this year after statistics revealed residents in both areas were spending millions of pounds each year on the machine.

In Northumberland residents had put £31.6m into fixed odds terminals in the last year, losing more than £6m. In South Tyneside, £23.9m was put into the machines, with £4.5m lost.

Coun Malcolm said: “We supported the introduction of a new planning classification for betting shops so we welcome this move.

“The proliferation of bookmakers is having a negative impact in other areas of the country.

“We are keen to ensure this doesn’t happen in South Tyneside and that we have a vibrant mix of retail and business outlets.

“For the Government to hand more control to local planning authorities is a significant step in the right direction.”

The changes have also been welcomed by civic leaders in Newcastle, where the city centre has the highest density of trading betting shops outside of London.

Within a 500 square metre area between Clayton, Nun and Nelson streets there are 16 separate gambling establishments.

Mr Savage added: “What’s happened in Newcastle is across the city over the last 10 years there’s only one more betting shop. They have closed down in other areas but there’s more concentration in the city centre.

“It’s not just about gambling - it’s about changing the nature of the high street that’s got nothing else but betting shops in it.”

A spokesperson from book makers William Hill said: “William Hill notes the outcome of the recent review. We recognise the need for Government to respond to public concern on betting shops generally, and B2 gaming machines in particular.

“The proposed recommendations are a balanced response, and we will now work to develop and embed the necessary IT changes and enhanced compliance framework.”

Plans to improve protections for players on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals include making those who want to bet more than £50 in one play pay over the counter.

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