Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Local Government Group
About the Local Government Group
The Local Government Group (LG Group) is here to support, promote and improve local government. Local government is facing the most radical changes, as well as the most significant opportunities, in a decade.
We will fight local government’s corner and support councils through challenging times by focusing on our top two priorities:
representing and advocating for local government and making the case for greater devolution; and
helping councils tackle their challenges and take advantage of new opportunities to deliver better value for money services.
1. Overall councils experience of licensing gambling and betting under the 2005 Act has been positive in that it has increased local influence over the licensing of gambling.
2. However, some councils have experienced a growth in the clustering of betting shops. This has a significant detrimental impact upon those communities and councils do not have sufficient powers under the present licensing and planning regime to respond to residents’ concerns.
3. We are calling on government to implement the following planning and licensing reforms:
Review the 12-month consultation provision under the “Article 4” direction, which is a longstanding disincentive to its use by local planning authorities.
Consider allowing greater flexibility in the use class system.
Limit the Planning Inspectorate’s ability to overturn decisions made by democratically elected councillors.
Give councils the flexibility to inspect all relevant premises without a Police officer or the Gambling Commission present.
4. We would also welcome the opportunity to work with the Gambling Commission to investigate ways in which the licensing framework could be strengthened to take account of some councils’ concerns about saturation.
5. We strongly encourage the casino industry to continue to work with the new casino areas under the 2005 Act so that those areas can finally start to realise the long-promised economic benefits.
The Role of Local Licensing Authorities in Implementing the 2005 Gambling Act
6. Overall councils experience of licensing gambling and betting under the 2005 Act has been positive and it was a welcome consolidation of three previous Acts. It has increased local influence over the licensing of gambling and given councils useful powers to deliver their local vision for gambling and betting, helping to ensure the Act achieves its objectives.
7. In particular, the fact that the licensing authority itself is listed as a responsible authority under the Act gives it the power to comment on applications and call for reviews of licences. This gives licensing authorities more power to intervene in the event of the licensing objectives being undermined.
8. We do, however, think that there is a strong case for undertaking further work with government and the Gambling Commission into whether the licensing framework could be strengthened to address some councils’ concerns about saturation, which are not explicitly addressed in the Act’s objectives. The licensing framework could be tightened by, for example, strengthening the Gambling Commission’s guidance in these areas and the re-introduction of the demand test. We would also welcome further work on the problems of public nuisance in some areas. As well as crime, anti-social behaviour and public nuisance sometimes be problematic, and a no less disruptive or costly consequence of some gambling establishments.
9. Secondly, local licensing officers do not have sole powers of entry to inspect member only gambling premises and can only do so when accompanied by a Police officer or the Gambling Commission. We believe this is an unnecessary extra burden on councils and for routine and low-level inspection activity it is out of proportion and could undermine efforts to build positive relationships with local gambling establishments.
10. Whilst there will be instances where joint visits with the Police or Gambling Commission will be appropriate, this should not automatically be the case, and local licensing authorities should have the discretion to decide how best to undertake local inspection activity.
The Role of the Planning System in Supporting Sustainable and Vibrant Communities
11. Local authorities have an important role in ensuring social, environmental and economic well being of their local areas. Coupled with this there is often a widespread desire for local communities to have more of a say on the sustainability of their local shopping centres and high streets.
12. The government announced in the Budget a review of the use classes system. Government has recently published an issues paper for comments to feed into this review.1
13. A number of local authorities have highlighted the problem (outlined above) of over saturation in their locality of betting shops and specifically cited the limited tools available to the local authority to shape their area in accordance with the wishes of local people. For example Liverpool, Hackney, Oxford City and Islington Councils all submitted proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act2 which sought to provide local areas with greater flexibility through the planning and licensing regime to prevent over saturation and clustering.
14. A key concern, amongst these councils, is the designation of betting shops. Betting shops are class A2 which effectively means that in planning terms they are considered alongside building societies and banks. Currently restaurants, drinking establishments and hot food takeaways are able to be converted into betting shops without seeking permission from the authority. This can lead to a lack of local influence over the look and feel of high streets.
15. The localist principle is that local areas should have the tools available to shape their locality to reflect needs and priorities of residents and businesses. The LG Group will be contributing to the review of use classes and in particular will be investigating with our member councils more localist approaches to allowing greater flexibility in the use class system. One option, for example would be to allow local authorities to develop their own use-class frameworks which are more sensitive to local circumstances, on the basis of consultation with local people.
Article 4 directions
16. At present, the only way for a council to prevent such an establishment from being set up is to use an “Article 4” direction, which can be issued by a Council in circumstances where specific control over development is required. The government’s proposals to amend the compensation provisions for Article 4 directions will mean that local authorities would need to give notice of the withdrawal of permitted development rights for a year to avoid being at risk of paying compensation. The compensation issue is a longstanding disincentive to the widespread use of Article 4 Directions by local planning authorities. The 12 month notice provision, in our view undermines the effectiveness of this measure.
17. The issuing and monitoring of Article 4 directions is also a very time consuming, expensive and complicated for local planning authorities. Advising developers, agents and the public on the restrictions imposed and ensuring that the restrictions are enforced will require significant resources.
Local decision making
18. In acting in the best interests of local people and the area, elected representative listen closely and carefully to the views of local residents and business and take these into account when setting out the planning policies for their area in their local plan and making decisions on individual planning applications.
19. All too often when a planning application has been refused the decision is appealed. The appeals system is managed by the national “Planning Inspectorate” which is based in Bristol. When an appeal against refusal of a planning application has been lodged, the Planning Inspectorate appoints a Planning Inspector to decide on the planning application. Effectively this means that the final decision on the planning application will have been taken entirely out of the hands of the local community.
20. Due to the large volume and range of cases that have to be dealt with, it can take a long time for a case to progress through the planning appeal system to a final decision. The Planning Inspectorate can also be costly for both the person making the appeal and the Council as there is often the need for professional representation by planning agents and/or lawyers. At present, the Planning Inspectorate can find itself having to deal with anything from a minor extension to a house to a multi-million pound retail park.
21. In order to give control back to local people and locally elected representatives, and in order to cut back on unnecessary expenditure being spent on planning appeals, the LG Group would like to see greater decisions vested with the local authority and the role of the planning inspectorate to overturn decisions made by democratically elected members limited.
22. The Gambling Act 2005 allows for one regional “super” casino (subsequently withdrawn) and an additional 16 casinos (eight large and eight small). The 16 local authorities have formed a very effective network to share information, common approaches and good practice in relation to casino issues.
23. The Advisory Panel on new casino locations was asked to select a mix of areas that were “in need of economic development and regeneration and likely to benefit in regeneration terms from a casino”. Councils worked hard to submit clear business cases about how casinos would help to regenerate some of the country’s most deprived areas and how they would deal with any social problems which may arise from gambling, including supporting those at risk from rising personal debt and cracking down on gambling-related crime and anti-social behaviour.
24. However, we expressed serious concerns to the previous government about the timely and costly process followed by the Advisory Panel to select the new casino areas, which has contributed towards the delay with progressing them. The eventual decision not to go ahead with the regional casino in Manchester was an unacceptable cost to local taxpayers.
25. We understand the casino industry is lobbying government to allow dormant casino licenses issued under the 1968 Gambling Act to be portable between local licensing authorities. We are currently consulting our Member councils on this proposal and are happy to share the results with the Committee.
The Gambling Commission
26. Feedback from authorities indicates that the Gambling Commission has improved how it communicates and engages with stakeholders. The LG Group and the Gambling Commission are working together to maintain and improve their cooperation and coordination to ensure the co-regulatory mechanism operates effectively to minimise queries and issues arising from the trade about the application of the legislation by local authorities.
Off shore (Remote) Gambling
27. The Committee will no doubt be aware that the Gambling Act 2005 does not address the issue of off shore (remote) operators, such as gambling by internet provided by organisation based outside the UK. This is an area that has perhaps become more of a concern since the Acts design in 2005 and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of last year’s consultation on remote gambling.
28. Councils recognise that gambling and betting, and the establishments where it takes place, deliver economic benefits and make an important contribution to a varied leisure offer in many parts of the country. But democratically elected councillors must have the planning and licensing powers they need to enable them to shape the local gambling offer so that it strikes a locally appropriate balance between public protection, a varied high street offer and gambling as a driver of local economic growth.
29. We note that individual councils have responded to this call for evidence with focused submission on aspects that are of particular concern to them. We support their submissions as the specific issues vary in different localities.
1 The LG Group is not aware of any evidence that the planning system is causing undue delay or obstruction to change of use. Evidence we have received from our members suggests that applications for change of sue are overwhelmingly approved with important conditions attached to ensure that adverse affects are mitigated and development is both viable and sustainable. The Governments review can be seen here.