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Is gambling ripping the heart and soul from Peterborough?

Peterborough has a population of 183,000 with 40 betting shops and arcades

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Up to 5,000 people in Peterborough are estimated to be addicted to gambling – many hidden from view by playing online but the visible numbers can be seen daily in up to 40 arcades and betting shops scattered across the city. Stroll along Broadway through Long Causeway and into Bridge Street and the number of arcades and betting are into double figures – with no signs of any suffering the pain of recession.

Peterborough has embraced a surge of new arcades and betting shops, and the trend seems to show no signs of stopping.

Indeed, only last week a fresh application went into Peterborough City Council for New Horizons arcade in Bridge Street applying to take over the neighbouring, and now vacated, The Works to expand.

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‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

.‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Despite a public outcry over their expansion plans, the city council will find their hands tied in finding reasons to refuse the application.

New Horizons are using commercial agents Brown and Co to advance their case – the company argues that changing the use to an AGC (Adult Gaming Centre) is simply a case of bringing the vacant Works store “back to life.

“The applicant already has an established business in the adjoining property, and now wishes to naturally expand the business into the adjoining property”.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

And they urge city planners to use recent legislative changes and Planning Inspectorate decisions which are considered “a significant material consideration in the decision-making of similar change of use applications”.

Brown and Co say that with regard to footfall “the application represents the extension of the existing business and will maintain or increase footfall in this particular area.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“AGCs are high street centric uses and are commonly found in high street pedestrian areas.

“They are complementary and compatible with other town centre uses and have wider economic benefits.”

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

They even trot out the argument that the enlarged AGC “has the benefit of being able to support both the daytime and the evening economy of Peterborough City Centre through the use maintaining activity throughout the day and evening”.

Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election, believes the city council could do more to combat the rise in amusement arcades and betting shops by strengthening the Local Plan.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“This latest planning application for another gambling den is just the latest sign that we need a new plan for the city centre,” he said.

Mr Pakes, as you might expect, believes the growth of betting shops and arcades are only part of the reasons for a recognisable decline in the city centre.

“This has been a wasted decade under the Tories,” he said. “We’ve lost flagship names, ditched the old market, and the council seems more concerned about investing in hotels.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“It seems like the then Conservative-run council was asleep at the wheel for the best part of 20 years whilst the decline set in.

“No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre.

“Peterborough urgently needs to learn from other councils, put in new rules through its Local Plan, and get the police we need to make the city centre a welcome and safe place again.”

On the issue of arcades and betting shops, MP Paul Bristow is in agreement.

He is pressing the city council to consider how they can “stop these horrendous centres that cause harm and deliver no discernible benefit to the people of the city.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“Gambling is a public health issue with potentially devastating consequences. I have spoken with many people about the serious effects of gambling addiction, which, in the worst cases, can even lead to suicide.

“These places are also just not right for our city centre. They encourage quite frankly the wrong reasons for people to travel into the city.”

“They are also not right for individuals, for friends, for families or for wider communities.

“We have a duty and responsibility to protect those vulnerable to the risks and do what is right for the city centre.”

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There remains, however, a feeling that the horse has bolted – words may have come too late to influence or change what is already there.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

And the city council will have to work hard, even under Labour, to prevent New Horizons being allowed what on the surface seems a modest proposal to extend what is there already.

The opportunity by city planners to prevent a fresh arcade opening does exist, however, elsewhere in Peterborough.

Labour councillor Asim Mahmood has applied a ‘call in’ procedure which is likely to mean the city council planning committee will decide on an application by rapidly expanding Merkhur to convert the New Dragon Chinese take away at 551 Lincoln Road into a slots arcade.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Merkhur, in their application bid, sticks to its tried, tested, and successful formula of pointing out that “the introduction of Class E and the Government’s clear message that the success of our town centres is no longer about protecting traditional forms of retailing”.

The company claims government policy is to introduce “a wide mix of uses and experiences which attract people into centres; there is still a common view that non-retail uses are not as beneficial to town centres as retail uses and may be harmful.

“There is a common misconception that uses like Adult Gaming Centres are not complementary town centre uses and inappropriate within primary shopping frontages because they do not generate the levels of footfall that retail units do, that they create ‘dead frontages’ leading to a fragmentation of the shopping frontage and a reduction in pedestrian flow, and do not generate linked trips”.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Residents registering their objections via the council’s online planning portal disagree, claiming the unsuitability of the site and their fear of anti-social behaviour as a result.

A company that owns a business nearby is also objecting.

They have used a Birmingham agent to tell the council ‘we are retained by clients who occupy premises close to the above property who wish to add their objections to those of the many local residents who have also strongly object to the proposed change of use to an adult gaming centre.

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

“The application site is located close to two existing betting offices and a further adult gaming centre which is also operated by the applicant.

“The proposed use will therefore merely replicate the gambling-related uses which are already located in close proximity to the site.

“There is no support or justification confirming that the proposed use will cater for the needs of the local community.

“Those needs are already being met by the existing adult gaming centre which is located less than 200 m to the south.”

Cambridgeshire Police seem more relaxed about the proposal.

A senior officer reviewed the application “in relation to crime, disorder, the vulnerability to crime and fear of crime”.

He says: “I am aware of the local concerns regarding the potential increase in anti-social behaviour.

“In that regard I have reviewed police crimes and incidents for the two current sites in Peterborough these are in areas that constantly attract crime and antisocial behaviour however there is no evidence that these premises contribute to or cause any issues.

“Whilst considering this application I note the relevant management practices being proposed.

“my only comment would be relating to what lock down policy will be in operation should there be an issue on site, this is due to the out-of-town location and proximity to residential properties, it is recommended that an access control strategy be implemented during hours of darkness.

“I have searched the constabularies crime and incident systems covering this area (Peterborough North/Central North Ward) for the previous 2 years, I consider this to be an area of medium/high risk to the vulnerability for crime.”

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

‘No more gambling shops – it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Meanwhile it was announced just before the election was called that the government says it intended to allow arcade and betting shop customers to use debit cards to gamble on slot machines.

It was all part of a wider plan to allow pubs and even seaside amusement arcades to compete in an increasingly cashless society.

Inevitably, the Betting and Gaming Council, an industry lobby group, welcomed the changes; an incoming Labour government, however, may row back on the legislative changes needed to introduce it.

By comparison Peterborough has a population of 183,000 with 40 betting shops and arcades compared to Cambridge, with a population of 123,000, has 18.

 

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