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Action plan to stop betting shops taking over Croydon

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MORE pop-up shops, a register of landlords and business rates relief for small firms are among "emergency measures" needed to rescue high streets from a rising tide of bookmakers and money lenders, experts have said.

The London Assembly's Economy Committee made its recommendations this week on how to break the "vicious cycle" on the high streets, in which empty retail units discourage shoppers and fuel more vacancies.

This follows news last week that Paddy Power had won permission to open the borough's 66th betting shop, despite huge opposition from locals.

Compiled with input from Croydon and other councils, the report recommends London-wide support to renegotiate rents and more planning powers for councils to restrict pawnbrokers and betting shops.

Pawnbrokers had nearly doubled from 135 to 263 across London between January 2010 and 2012, often not needing planning permission because they filled empty shops that had been used under the same planning category.

Assembly member Andrew Dismore, chair of the Economy Committee, said: "The mayor, the Government and local boroughs need urgently to follow our recommendations to bring empty shops back into use, stop the rot and help our local high streets thrive again."

The report comes as Croydon Council is offering small and medium-sized businesses moving into Croydon town centre rates discounts of up to 65 per cent in the first year.

The £1.14 million scheme, funded by the Mayor of London, can be applied for until March 2015.

Councillor Vidhi Mohan, cabinet member for economic regeneration, told the Advertiser: "Rate relief has to be properly targeted and that is why currently it is targeted in the town centre because we want to ensure empty office space is used up."

Cllr Mohan added he also supported other recommendations in the report, in particular a register of landlords so owners of empty properties could be tracked down and their properties put to other uses.

He said: "I think that would be really helpful because at the moment it is really difficult for the council to find exactly who owns some of these properties – a lot of them are identified to someone offshore so the whole ownership is very complex."

More planning powers over pawnbrokers and betting shops would be very welcome, he added, but the best weapon against such shops would be wider economic regeneration.

Ganapathy Kasinathan, chair of London Road Business Association, supported the possibility of increasing the council's planning powers after the licencing committee said last week it was unable to turn down an application for a heavily opposed betting shop in London Road.

He said: "It has really upset every one. We are trying to regenerate the area."

The report called for councils to be able to buy empty shops' leases with a form of compulsory purchase order. Cllr Mohan said the council would need to be confident that there was a market for any leases it bought.


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