Betting, fast food and the protection of heritage – can Croydon learn from Wandsworth?

By - Monday 1st December, 2014

So what’s planned for our high streets? Sean Creighton looks at protection for communities and the environment

1421 and 1423 London Road.
Photo by John Gass, used with permission.

Norbury residents recently refused to withdraw their objections to the licence application of  Paddy Power, the chain of betting shops, to cover an existing shop at 1421 London Road and its planning-approved expansion to 1423 next door. This refusal highlights the limited powers of the council to control the spread of betting shops in local high streets.

This is because the law and regulations about the award of betting shop licences are so tight that the assumption is that licence applications have to be granted. The only basis on which an application can be refused is if the police object on the basis of actual criminal activity.

Paddy Power’s representatives made it clear to the sub-committee that having a double frontage on London Road and a side entrance on Stanford Road will improve its competitive edge with the William Hill betting shop situated diagonally opposite. The changes will give extra space for the comfort of its customers, and allow for improved supervision of customers and betting behaviour.

Paddy Power’s representative argued that each of the points raised by objectors had no validity in terms of the grounds that could be considered.

I want the sub-committee to go behind Paddy Power’s rhetoric and examine how it operates

There are limits on objectors at the licence hearing. They can only speak to their written objection. My raising additional questions put the sub-committee members on edge. I was allowed to submit a sheet with them on, on the basis that they could not be taken into account in reaching a decision and, given that fact, Paddy Power raised no objection. My verbal remarks were based on an attempt to see if the sub-committee was prepared to go behind Paddy Power’s rhetoric to examine the details of the way it operated.Although this was ruled out as not relevant, sub-committee members did ask their own questions on some aspects of operational detail.Paddy Power was agreeable to letting them have the information, on the basis that it was not relevant to the decision that could be taken.

The sub-committee did not comment on my suggestion that it request the Cabinet consider bringing in an Article 4 Direction, as over 120 authorities had done up to January 2014. I suggested that the council’s failure to do so represented a failure to look after the interests of residents in Norbury and elsewhere in the borough.

Tory Wandsworth has also come late in the day in addressing this issue and for the time being has ruled out the adoption of an Article 4 Direction, but is currently consulting on a supplementary planning document: ‘Town Centre Uses’. This document proposes ‘that in locations which already have four or more betting shops within a 400m radius, the council will seek to resist any additional units, either through the application of an Article 4 Direction, conditions to exclude betting shops related to proposals for A2 use, or the potential requirement to submit a planning application according to the Government’s proposed changes to the Use Class Order.’

The Wandsworth draft also addresses the role of pubs, including their heritage and community value. It sets out a detailed list of criteria to assess these values. I discussed the issues involved in protecting pubs in the Citizen last January.

Croydon faces enormous planning challenges

Wandsworth is also suggesting that it create zones around schools to prevent more than four fast food takeaways being approved. Croydon Council should be considering as a matter of urgency drafting a similar supplementary planning document. Developers present Labour-controlled Croydon with enormous challenges in planning, from the drastic cuts in planning regulation and enforcement inherited from the Tories, and in the acknowledged neglect of the historic built environment as discussed in another recent Citizen article.

Wandsworth Tories have had few reservations about the long-term effects of the activities of private developers, particularly in Nine Elms and Wandsworth Town Centre. They are currently consulting on a major redevelopment project for Wandsworth High Street and Garratt Lane to replace its two office blocks and the South Thames College Tower.The development raises all sorts of issues about the nature of the town centre, the generation of extra traffic, the proposed move of the library and turning the court house into a restaurant or retail outlet.

Development puts pressure on the environment and community

Craftily, the planning consultation is taking place before the council adopts a supplementary planning document on planning obligations on which it is currently consulting. The document recognises that ‘development comes with its pressures on the environment and community, the impact on our roads, schools and general amenity. Conversely, development can improve our environment, whether it is the use of renewable energy, improved landscaping or more functional use of our urban environment.’

The draft identifies how the council will use its planning powers ‘to ensure new development contributes to a safer, healthier and more prosperous Wandsworth and will be a material consideration in the assessment of planning applications’. It says it will seek to ensure development incorporates high quality design, mitigates any adverse impacts and contributes to the needs of the local community. The document sets out the circumstances where planning obligations requiring financial contributions under the Community Infrastructure Levy will be used.

Wandsworth Council is also working on a historic environment supplementary planning document for consultation. The two supplementary planning document consultation drafts can be accessed here: Town Centre Uses and Planning Obligations. I hope that Croydon will look to drafting its own supplementary planning documents on planning obligations and the historic environment.

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Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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