February 25, 2014 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson



Last year, the government changed the planning rules to make it easier for betting shops and payday lenders to set up. The changes mean that existing shops can become financial services offices without having to ask for planning permission. Betting shops and payday lenders count as ‘financial services’ offices hence the concern that we are seeing more of them setting up.

The changes went through with the support of both the Conservative and Lib Dem parts of the coalition government so it came as something of a surprise when the Lib Dems said they were against the changes. 

In parliament, Lib Dem MPs supported the move to allow betting shops and payday lenders to set up where they want.

Meanwhile another betting shop is to open in Formby and a new betting shop opened in Maghull a few months ago. The opening of new betting shops has highlighted concerns among many people about the changes happening in our high streets and the impact on local shops.

In some parts of the country, the growth in the number of betting shops has been linked to a rise in the number of people going to the bookies just to play on the fixed odds betting terminals which account for a significant part of their profits. 

Where there are large numbers of betting shops and payday lenders, the impact on shopping areas has been stark as shoppers are discouraged from visiting with those who use the betting shops and payday lenders not going to the other shops nearby. The nature of many shopping areas has changed and there is understandable concern that this is what is happening in Formby and in Maghull.

We need a balance in our high streets and in our other shopping areas so that independent retailers can make a living, so that shoppers have a decent choice and so that our town and village centres are attractive places for visitors and shop staff alike. So whether it is David Pluck Betting Shop in Formby or a new Tesco Metro next to Marine Football Club, such changes need to be considered with great care otherwise our high streets will continue to decline.

There are many very good independent retailers in Formby, Crosby, Maghull, Aintree and beyond. We can all support them and I hope that as many people as possible will do so.

I am pleased that Sefton Council has given funding to help our high streets in spite of the massive cuts inflicted on it by the government. 

In Maghull, the town team has opened the Emporium for small shops in the square. Meanwhile, Crosby hosts its next street food festival on Thursday (February 27) and in Formby, the parish council is building on its efforts to promote the Village centre, working with borough councillors like Peter Maguire.

The local community is doing its bit to revitalise our town centres and to promote the many good shops we have. But we need a government that supports local people. Sadly this government has done the exact opposite when it comes to allowing bookmakers and payday loan companies free reign in deciding where to set up.