The Bank’s Gone From Your High Street, But At Least You Can Have A Bet

When a bank shuts down and is swiftly replaced by a bookmaker, it tells you something about an area. Financial Mail has campaigned for years against the way banks and building societies have deserted rural and urban communities.



We have highlighted the distress these closures cause, particularly for older customers, those who cannot travel and those who cannot, or do not want to, bank electronically. Today we report on a new trend emerging in many High Streets.


Not only are banks and building society branches closing at a rate of 14 a month, but many premises are reopening as betting shops


Pie shop owner George Mascall
Heritage: George Mascal questions why there are so many similar businesses



















Already Britain's two biggest chains – William Hill and Ladbrokes – have more branches than any High Street bank.



The betting industry says its shops add value to recession-hit High Streets and provide 'social centres where individuals come together to exchange opinions, banter and enjoy a harmless leisure pursuit'. But many residents disagree.


They say that while banks and building societies provided vital, valued services, the betting shops that replace them detract from their neighbourhood and aggravate crime.


Business owners and residents in Deptford, south-east London, are fighting the arrival of an eighth betting shop on their High Street. National chain Betfred wants to take over what was until last November a branch of Halifax. Lewisham council, under pressure from residents, has refused it permission and Betfred is appealing.


Much of the street retains its Victorian character and boasts many small independent businesses such as Manze's, a traditional pie and mash shop established in 1890 by the greatgrandfather of current owner George Mascall.


George, who is in his 50s, questions why so many businesses doing the same thing have been allowed to set up beside one another. 'In the past, the council had to vet shops before giving licences,' he says. 'You couldn't just have row upon row of the same sorts of firm.'


The answer is that under Labour rules were introduced enabling betting shops to apply for licences without having to prove adequate local demand. Joan Ruddock, Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford, wants a change to rules that classify betting shops in the same group as banks.


This enables bookmakers to grab premises from departing banks, building societies or estate agents in what she describes as a 'turf war' to 'seize market share'.


She says: 'We have high levels of substance abuse, addiction and mental illness here. Is this really a community that needs 11 betting shops?'


Gus Sidhu, who runs an opticians in Deptford High Street, says of the proliferation of betting shops nearby: 'It is not a step forward for a community. It is three steps back.


My business account was with Halifax, as was the case with many of my neighbours. When Halifax went, I had to close my account.'


Gus, who is in his 40s, says it would now take him 30 minutes in heavy traffic to reach the nearest Halifax branch. As well as Halifax, Deptford High Street previously had branches of NatWest, HSBC, Barclays, Woolwich, Lloyds and a post office. Only Barclays and HSBC remain.


Meanwhile, betting shops have sprung up there at an astonishing rate. There are now seven on the High Street and a further three close by.


Britain's biggest building society, Nationwide, closed seven south-east London branches earlier this year, several of which were close to Deptford.


The High Street was badly hit in last week's looting. Gus defended his store by parking in front of it and calling on the help of three friends who armed themselves with hammers. His shop and the nearby pizza restaurant in which he also owns a share escaped unscathed.


Gus does not have a moral objection to gambling but is convinced that the street's betting shops attract criminals, including drug dealers.


Apart from all the betting shops in Deptford High Street, there are two pawnbrokers and a shop offering short-term credit in the form of 'payday' loans. Five of the betting shops, two owned by William Hill, are in a 100-yard stretch.


Derek French of the Campaign for Community Banking Services says it is not only in deprived and inner-city areas where bookies are replacing banks and building societies.


He cites affluent Harpenden in Hertfordshire. 'The former Woolwich branch there was converted to a Barclays in 2007, but closed in March 2010,' he says. 'It is now a prominent town centre branch of Ladbrokes.'


The Association of British Bookmakers argues that over the longer term the number of betting shops is actually declining.


Spokesman Tom Kenny says there has been a 'consistent downward trend in the total number of shops since its peak of 15,782 in 1968 to 8,595 in 2010'.


The Gambling Commission estimated that the number of betting shops increased in 2010 by more than 100.


The ABB did not provide corresponding data for this period.


A spokesman for William Hill, when asked why it wanted two premises in a small area where there were already so many betting shops, replied: 'We only open shops where it is commercially viable to do so.'


Betfred declined to comment. But Kenny insists crime and anti-social problems are uncommon. 'In some inner-city boroughs a small number of public order offences do occur,' he says. But he says that compared with the wider crime rate of the area betting shops themselves are usually 'orderly and generally safe places'.


By Richard Dyson

This is MONEY

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