Two councils in the North East are supporting a campaign to stop the spread of betting shops after shock figures showing that tens of millions of pounds are being lost in gambling machines.
Northumberland County Council and South Tyneside Council have joined with 61 other councils across the country to demand the Government changes the planning law to stop the spread of betting shops.
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.
Bookmakers are then easily able to acquire a premises license as the law states councils must “aim to permit” new betting shops.
If successful, the campaign to put betting shops into a planning category that would allow councils to refuse new planning applications from bookmakers.
The campaign comes after figures were released showing that people in Northumberland 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 being lost.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “The authority is supporting a proposal to seek the introduction of a new planning classification specifically for gambling premises. While we are supportive of new businesses coming to our high streets we want to balance this with the views of local people.”
He was backed by South Tyneside council leader Iain Malcolm, who said: “Betting shops are becoming a common feature of the high street and district centres. In other parts of the country the proliferation of betting shops is having a significant detrimental effect on the vitality of town centres.
“It’s not at that level in South Tyneside but obviously we are mindful of what’s happening elsewhere.”
The campaign group Local Works, which has amassed the support of 63 local authorities from across the country, said: “The clustering of betting shops – particularly in poorer areas – has become a significant problem for many communities in recent years.
“The proliferation of betting shops has caused an increase in gambling addiction, leading to family and social breakdown as well as an increase in crime. It is great to see 63 councils joining forces and using the Sustainable Communities Act to address this – now Government has to sit up and listen.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “Whilst putting betting shops back in their own use class is a welcome step in the right direction, at best it will stem the problem of fixed odds betting terminals rather than solve it. To be fully effective, planning reforms should also include a demand test.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he will give councils the power to ban fixed odds machines.