PADDY Power's controversial plan to open a betting shop on London Road has been approved despite widespread opposition. The bookmaker's application was granted despite 48 written objections - including every major community group in the area. Speaking at the licensing sub-committee resident Nia Reynolds said the betting office would "suck the life" out of Broad Green. Opponents rounded on the police who raised no objections nor sent anyone to Tuesday's meeting. This lack of support meant they had little hard evidence with which to counter the argument put forward by Paddy Power's lawyer Gerald Gouriet QC that there were no legal grounds on which to reject the application. Ms Reynolds argued another bookmaker is the last thing the London Road needs. "West Croydon is becoming awash with betting offices, pawnshops and money lenders and these give the appearance of exploiting poor and vulnerable people – they are a blight on our community," she said. "We appreciate the council wants to attract businesses and see empty shops occupied. We do too. but this type of business is counter-productive and problematic. "Before the riots there was a bookmaker near where Paddy Power wants to open, and there were always of crowds of people gathered outside, drinking and smoking. It was very intimidating. "For the sake of a community which is still in shock from the riots and struggling to recover, we urge you to reject this application and focus on businesses which will lift the community, not suck the life out of it." The bookmaker in question was on the corner of St James's Road. Broad Green councillor Stuart Collins told the committee it attracted gangs linked to an extortion racket. He said: "The problems associated with that betting shop are well documented so I am surprised, as are residents, that the police haven't put anything in because, two of three weeks ago, I spoke to the acting borough commander and asked him to do it and he said he would. "These elements which used to gather around there were very intimidating, but there has been a change since the office burnt down. A number of traders felt the situation has improved but they are concerned the problems could now return. "Whichever way you look at it, there will be very little benefit if business opens up in London Road. I can tell you, to a person, all the traders are against this." The Gambling Act 2005 states premises applications should be granted if they are "reasonably consistent" with the three licensing objectives which focus on preventing crime, promoting openness and protecting children and vulnerable people. Paddy Power produced a handbook which detailed how it would take measures to meet the objectives, including installing CCTV and training staff to deal with people who they suspect of betting beyond their means. It has also agreed to sign up to Croydon Safer Radio when the scheme is rolled out in London Road. Mr Gouriet QC accepted there were problems associated with the bookmakers in St James's Road but said his client's application was "considerably better" and would "alleviate any of the problems". He added: "The fact that someone may fear, and indeed reasonably fear, that there might be some problems of disorder is not reason for refusal. "Under this Act there is very little power to act on concerns at the application stage but if the fear became a reality there is all the power in the world to do something about it. "So while on applications like this, understandable and legitimate fears can be expressed, it is impermissible to mount a refusal on what is no more than fear. "Of course there might be an increase in crime but there might not be. No one can say. Speculation on that basis is impermissible. One simply doesn't know." Cllr Collins replied: "It's all right to say there is provision in the law that if it does all go wrong you can then reverse that decision, but I'd rather we didn't make that decision in the first place." Written objections were submitted by groups such as Help House Croydon and the Croydon Tamil Welfare Association as well as the West Croydon Community Forum, Elmwood Residents' Association, Westbury Community Project and the London Road Business Association. Their fears were not, however, shared by the police. Superintendent Rob Atkin said concerns surrounding the application had been taken seriously. He added: "Having tasked my licensing unit to specifically look into this application and whether there were any reasonable grounds for us to object, the reality is that there were none." The sub-committee, chaired by Councillor Maria Gatland, took less than 20 minutes to deliberate before granting the application. The new bookmaker will replace Chicken Cottage. Without the support of the police, opponents to Paddy Power's application had little answer to the experience and straight-talking of the bookmaker's lawyer Gerald Gouriet QC. An expert in gaming, alcohol and entertainment licensing, Mr Gouriet said there was no room for sentiment in business. "There are certainly communities who wish the law was not passed in the manner in which it was," admitted Mr Gouriet. "The way the law is comes pretty close to ignoring that there are large amount of people who don't want a betting office in their area. I'm afraid that does not provide a lawful platform for refusal of a licence. "It is up to companies like Paddy Power, taking advantage of the law as it has been drafted, to do whatever they can to meet with local people and alleviate as far as possible the fears they have. "What they can't be expected to do is decide they aren't going to submit an application because they have a sensitivity towards the feelings as expressed by those groups of people. "If they did do that then you can bet your bottom dollar that your William Hills, Ladbrokes or Corals are going to see the gap in the market caused by the loss of the betting shop during the riots and come charging in. We can't expect people to stand back due to a sense of decency, it's just not going to happen." Croydon Council is currently in the process of creating special zones to limit the spread of licensed premises, but no equivalent power exists for betting shops.
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