A BETTING shop giant has hit back at Ealing Council over proposals to restrict the number of gambling sites opening in Southall.
The council is looking into the possibility of making Southall a ‘special policy area’ for licensing applications, giving it a greater say in turning down proposals.
But betting chain William Hill has accused the council of ‘minority moral activism’ and said the authority’s plans are ‘erroneous’.
The council’s licensing committee is meeting next week to discuss a report on special policy area status for Southall, specifically around High Street, the Broadway and South Road. If the report is approved, it will move one step closer to becoming policy.
Ranjit Dheer, cabinet leader for community services and safety, said a recent consultation with residents had identified concerns about the number of betting shops and incidents concerning anti-social behaviour, drugs and prostitution.
Mr Dheer said current Government policy is weighted towards encouraging councils to open betting shops, giving them very little say in the matter.
But Andrew Lyman, head of public affairs at William Hill said: “Betting shops are highly regulated environments and local authorities already have adequate powers to object to new licences and review existing ones.
“The problem for moral objectors, who are now using planning as their weapon of choice, is that they are very rarely, if ever, able to show evidence that betting shops cause additional problems for the street scene.
“Just the opposite in fact. Betting shops provide welcome entertainment, local jobs, pay business rates and add to the vitality and vibrancy of the high street.
“There has not been any proper consultation with the betting industry on this issue. This is not localism, but minority moral activism.”
Mr Lyman added that Ealing’s proposals would only affect licences for selling alcohol: “The proposed amendment does not affect the council’s licensing policy for gambling. The linkage of this proposal with betting shops is therefore erroneous.”
Responding, Mr Dheer said: “I think that it’s very unfortunate that William Hill wants to use that kind of language. We are not moralising or sermonising from a moral point of view.
“Too many betting shops are bad for the economy and businesses in the area. People have told us they feel intimidated about the problems created by betting shops.”
Mr Dheer added there was a clause in the Gambling Act of 2005 that would give councils more power over applications for betting shop licences in a special policy area.
He said he had also been impressed by some of the points raised in a recent letter from the Association of British Bookmakers and would give them full consideration.
There is currently a total of 83 betting shops in Ealing, with 18 of these located in Southall.