Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): In common with Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the Mary Portas review. I want to talk specifically about one of its recommendations, which pertains to betting shops and the planning regulations that apply to them. I want to talk about the scourge of betting shops, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for some time and partly because they are a particular issue in Hackney and other inner-city areas. Unless people live in an area such as Hackney, which has seven or eight betting shops on one high street, they cannot understand the scourge that the proliferation of those places represents.
We have seen a surge in the number of betting shops over the past decade, particularly in inner London. I think that there are now 90 in Hackney, which is three times the national average. That is why I am glad to have this opportunity to address the House on the subject. There are nine betting shops on Mare street alone. On that street, next to the historic St John’s church, we have a beautiful 19th century town hall, on which millions have been spent on renovation. It had been leased to the Midland bank since the 1930s, but in the 1990s the council sold the freehold to the bank—now HSBC—which promptly sold it on to Coral the bookmaker. That is the pitch that we have reached in the inner cities: that heritage building is now a bookmaker’s.
Let me say something about bookmakers for the benefit of Members who do not know much about them or who do not go into their premises. In many cases, they are the equivalent of casinos, with highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals. Often, there are many of these in one shop. Members might say, “Well, it is people’s choice if they want to place a bet. Why is she being so prudish?” I have no moral objection to betting shops; my objection is to their proliferation. As I have said, there are between six and eight on our high streets, and children might have to pass four or five of them on the way from home to school in Hackney.
I also object to the predatory nature of the betting shops in the inner city. As I have said, there are eight or nine on Mare street, and nine on Green lanes in Harringay. Betting shops put nothing back into the community, and they add no vibrancy. The pattern of new betting shops opening within the M25 shows that they have targeted the poorest areas with the highest unemployment and poverty. There are three times the number of betting shops in Newham as there are in Richmond. What could be more predatory than that? The people who can least afford to bet are being tempted by four or five betting shops in a row. Furthermore, hundreds of public order offences are committed outside betting shops every week, contributing to low-level social disorder.
I have campaigned on this issue for many years. I have written to and met Ministers and council leaders, and I have tabled early-day motions. The problem is one of planning. Betting shops fall within use class code A2, which covers financial services. That means that it is possible to turn banks and building societies into betting shops. It is even possible to switch the use of restaurants and takeaways. The Gambling Act 2005 does not give local authorities any real scope to limit the number of betting shops. Year after year, my own Ministers wrote back to me saying that they believed that local planning authorities had strong planning powers available to them to control the development of betting shops. That was not true; it was clearly the line that officials took, but it was not true.
I very much welcome Mary Portas’s recommendation No. 13, which covers the planning regime for betting shops. It is headed: “Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use class’ of their own”, and I support her when she says:
“I also believe that the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets.”
After many years of campaigning by local residents, and of local authorities finding themselves caught between angry residents and a Government who claim that authorities already have the necessary powers, I suggest that now is the time, following the trigger of the Portas report, for Ministers to give local authorities the power, in this one respect, to give the high streets back to the local communities and to end the scourge of predatory betting shops in some of the poorest communities in our country.