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Palmers Green campaigners will be meeting Carolyn Harris MP, chair of the all-party group for gambling related harm

As they continue to work on finalising their application for a review of the gambling licence issued to Merkur Slots, leading activists from the campaign group StopPGMerkurSlots will this week be asking for advice from the chair of an all party parliamentary group (APPG).

The meeting between Palmers Green campaigners, led by Shirley Rose and Wendy Sands, and the chair of the APPG for Gambling Related Harm, Carolyn Harris MP, is scheduled for Friday and has been arranged by their MP, Bambos Charalambous. The member for Enfield Southgate has been a strong supporter of the campaign to reverse the approval of a 24-hour "bingo" licence for the premises in Green Lanes. In February he wrote to the culture secretary calling for local authorities to have more discretion in the granting of gambling licences. Last month he presented a petition to parliament requesting a review of gambling premises licences granted during the coronavirus lockdown; this has now been forwarded to the department for culture, media and sport for consideration - DCMS have two months to respond. And two weeks ago he made a submission to the gambling act review currently under way at DCMS (see below for the text of his submission).

Once the review application has been submitted to the council, there will be a 28-day consultation period. Shirley Rose says that the campaigners will be urging residents to make use of this to make representations, telling them to "watch this space" for advice on what to write.

Text of submission by Bambos Charalambous MP to the DCMS Gambling Act Review (dated 30 March 2021)

I am responding to the Gambling Act Review as Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate and on behalf of my constituents.

I am responding in particular to:

  • Paragraph 67 concerning whether Local Authorities and other Licensing Authorities have the powers they need in respect of gambling premises to effectively fulfil their role, and
  • Question 43 on whether Licensing and Local Authorities have enough powers to fulfil their responsibilities in respect of premises licences.

I do not require my response to remain confidential and am willing to be contacted concerning my response.

 

In my Enfield Southgate constituency permission has recently been granted to Merkur Slots to open a 24 hour Adult Gaming Centre at 292/292a Green Lanes, London N13 5TW. Applications were submitted to Enfield Council on 27 November 2020, with the deadline for representations being 27 December 2020 and a Bingo Premises Licence was obtained on 4 January 2021. Gaming machines in the premises will be allowed to operate 24 hours a day. This has caused widespread concern amongst local residents, with local Councillors and myself being opposed to another gambling establishment in the local high street.

There are several issues which have arisen from my experience of raising this Adult Gaming Centre application with the Local Authority and Government on behalf of local constituents.

Advertising and Consultation

There was widespread concern that the public notification for the application was limited to an advert in a local newspaper and an A4 notice on the premises in November to December 2020. I asked the Local Authority whether these notices complied with the legal requirements of the Gambling Act. The Local Authority advised that the requirements of the Gambling Act 2005 were met and further that no allowance for the impact of the pandemic had been made by the Government in terms of extending or amplifying legally required advertising and consultations.

The application was made at a time when London was subject to additional Covid 19 restrictions. I believe that very few local residents or neighbouring businesses would have been aware of this application and indeed only one representation was received by the Local Authority by the deadline on 27 December 2020.

However since the local community did become aware of the issue in mid-February 2021 local Councillors and myself have received many emails expressing concern and a petition against the proposal was set up by local residents which secured over 4,200 signatures within five weeks, indicating the level of unhappiness in the local area.

I am very concerned that the exceptional circumstances in which our community found itself has facilitated an application which is unwelcome by many and to which many local residents would have wished to make representations. The normal notification methods, though compliant with the regulations were not adequate as a means of notifying the public when access to the high street was limited and the circulation of a local newspaper in which the advert was placed even more restricted. Whilst these were exceptional circumstances, how the public is notified and consulted is a very important matter for local communities.

I note that there is currently no requirement to consult neighbouring businesses, those living close to the premises or local business groups, community groups or resident associations.

The further issue is then what weight is given to public representations.

Powers of the Local Authority Licensing Committees

I am very concerned that whilst the Licensing Committees were given the responsibility to licence premises for gambling, they have limited powers and are unable to prevent certain gambling premises from opening even where there is substantial local opposition or where there is already a clustering of gambling establishments.

Licensing Committees are restricted in the representations which can be taken into account when determining an application and I believe the grounds on which a licence can be refused and the ability to request a review of the licence are too limited.

I note that the July 2020 House of Lords Committee Report on Gambling Harm highlighted that the "liberalisation of the regulation of gambling has led to an increased presence of gambling services on the high street" with the gambling industry driving that demand.

I believe that the Gambling Commission's current guidance to Local Authorities which makes it clear that there is an "aim to permit" gambling premises and the Local Authority "should not comment on whether there is demand for gambling premises" should be reversed.

I support the recommendation of the House of Lords Committee that the Gambling Act should be amended to give Licensing Committees the power to reach decisions on the licensing of premises for gambling in the same way that they can decide on the licensing of premises for the sale of alcohol.

I would support Licensing Committees being able to consider and refuse an application on the basis of:

  • Whether the premises would benefit the local community;
  • Strength of objections from the local community;
  • A clustering of gambling premises in the locality;
  • The general character of the locality and the use of nearby buildings. This relates particularly to the Adult Gaming Centre proposed for Palmers Green.

There are already four betting shops in close proximity to the proposed new gambling premises, resulting in a concentration of gambling premises in the local high street, namely:

  • Ladbrokes at 363 Green Lanes
  • Ladbrokes at 402 Green Lanes
  • Paddy Power at 314 Green Lanes
  • BetFred at 319 Green Lanes

Local residents in Palmers Green have worked with businesses to improve and support the high street, making it a more pleasant environment for the community at a time when local high streets are facing huge challenges. The local community are keen to see the local day and night time economy thrive, and the opening of a 24 hour Adult Gaming Centre in a prime spot in the high street would be highly detrimental to those efforts.

I believe that had the Licensing Committee had the powers I recommend above the outcome of this application would have been very different.

Yours faithfully

Bambos Charalambous MP

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NO! To Merkur Slots in Palmers Green

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