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Taking a gamble on planning?


The UK Government recently announced that it would be changing the use class order in England so that new bookmaker shops will have to submit a planning application. It is expected that this will lead to them being re-designated as a sui generis use, so as to provide planning authorities with more control over their location.

Craig McLarenThis is not just an issue in England. Although the use class order in Scotland is different from the English version, the current grouping of betting shops in a financial and professional services class is broadly similar. The urgency of the issue led Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning, to host a summit on betting and payday loans on Scotland’s high streets that brought together financial advisers, bookmakers, credit unions, planners, politicians, debt advisers and users to examine ways forward. And Glasgow City Council has set up a commission on the issues to which I have given evidence on planning’s role.
The discussion pointed to planning as the ultimate solution for tackling the issues. As much as I am keen for planners to attempt to provide solutions I think this is one area where, although we can contribute, we certainly don’t hold all the cards. We need to recognise that the planning system is only dealing with the demand that has been generated for betting shops.

"This is one area where, although we can contribute, we certainly don't hold all the cards"

Mackay is now considering how best to tackle the issues of betting shops. He may want to look at the sui generis route that looks likely in England, although it can't be applied retrospectively. He could encourage planning authorities to use Article 4 directions to restrict changes of use, however, this won’t have much of an impact as it would probably only restrict changes of use from class 2 (food and drink) to class 3 (financial and professional services). Interestingly, the summit was convened within a context of creating vibrant town centres and Mackay is leading on the gambling issue, as the government’s town centre champion.
Is there merit in examining it from a broader perspective? Could there be a more proactive approach to – and explicit link between – planning and licensing?
Or should he explore the idea of local authorities using their duty outlined in the 2010 Equality Act? This says that in making decisions they should have “due regard for the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from social-economic disadvantage”. This could be done by asking that local development plans and development management decisions are guided through an impact assessment.
It may be worth a punt.
Craig McLaren is the RTPI national director for Scotland.
Image credit: Alan Stanton

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