Once again, the Tory group in Hillingdon has proved that their marketing strap line of “Putting residents first” is precisely that, a marketing strapline, and one with absolutely no substance.
At the full Council meeting on Thursday 5th July the Labour group tabled two motions, one asking the Cabinet to reconsider their decision to close three day centres for the disabled. Not surprisingly the Tory group put their party whip before the residents and voted down that motion.
The other motion was for the council to support the, government commissioned, Mary Portas review of High streets and the “High Streets First” campaign led by Cllr Rowena Davis (Southwark Council) in their efforts to get planning law changed so that the council can control the number of betting shops in town centres.
Given our continued economic slump and an economy that has flat lined for the last 2 years, there is real concern that clusters of betting shops on our high streets are exploiting people’s desperation for a way out of poverty, giving rise to payday loan companies and creating a trickle up movement of money moving from the poor to the rich.
Other boroughs and campaign groups are now working together to force a change in the law. Under current planning law betting shops are taking over vacant high street units with their existing A2 classification meaning they don’t need any planning permission for a “change of use”. This is because betting shops, according to Planning Law, are listed as “financial services”.
Cllr Lynne Allen proposed the motion and made it absolutely clear that we are not against betting shops per se and that our concerns are centred on clusters of Bookies which are said to hamper work around regeneration by discouraging businesses from moving into the area and making it difficult to create a more diverse and vibrant high street.
Mary Portas made a recommendation in her review that would have changed the classification of betting shops and placed limits on their numbers. The “High Streets First” campaign also calls for the government to change the law in order to give local communities a say over the number of betting shops in their area.
During the Mayoral election campaign Boris Johnson indicated his support for these campaigns by saying:
“We certainly should be making it easier for councils to block them (bookmakers) – they’re not only spreading false hope, they’re reducing the economic vitality of high streets. Bookmakers are a spiritual narcotic that breed false hope and it’s a terrible thing to see.”
It was therefore very sad to see the Tories speaking against the campaigns to curb the proliferation of betting shops and by doing so they actually started arguing that clusters of betting shops and the encouragement of gambling was a good thing.
Rather than put the residents first in this debate, the Conservative group put their need to play pointless party political games in the council chamber, before any commitment to the residents that they were elected to serve.
Cllr Peter Curling
Leader of the Labour Group
London Borough of Hillingdon