Many Deptford residents will have been delighted to hear the news yesterday that Betfred's application for a change of use for the former Halifax premises has been rejected by Lewisham's planning officer.
If you remember from previous posts, the former planning consent for the shop allowed it to be classified as A2 use only if it was occupied by a building society. Betfred had to apply for a variation to this change of use, so that its classification would apply to all A2 uses (banks, building societies, financial services and betting shops).
The official reasons for the rejection were:
1) The proposed variation of Condition (2) to allow use of the premises for unrestricted A2: Financial and Professional Services, for use as a betting shop would continue the proliferation of an over concentration of betting office uses in the vicinity within a designated core shopping frontage, beyond an acceptable level, detracting from the range of retail services available within the defined District Town Centre, adversely affecting the diversity of uses and the vitality and viability of the area, contrary to Policy STC 4 Major and District Centres - Core Shopping Areas of the adopted Unitary Development Plan and Policy CSP6 of the Submission Core Strategy.
2) The proposed variation of Condition (2) to allow use of the premises for unrestricted A2: Financial and Professional Services, for use as a betting shop, would have the potential to cause harm in terms of anti-social behaviour, crime and disturbance to neighbouring residents and other users of the town centre, contrary to the requirements of Policy STC 4 Major and District Centres - Core Shopping Areas in the adopted Unitary Development Plan (2004) and Policy CSP6 of the Submission Core Strategy.
Betfred is bound to appeal this decision, which will be referred to the Planning Inspectorate; we sincerely hope the inspectorate will back up the council's reasoning.
Some people are asking why this defence has not been used before to prevent the situation on Deptford High Street getting so bad. The answer, certainly in the case of the last two establishments (Paddy Power shops in the former Deptford Arms and John Evelyn pubs) lies with planning law.
Most properties in the UK have a planning classification, defined by the local authority, which governs what kind of business, if any, can be carried out on the premises. These range from A1 (shops, post offices, travel agents, hairdressers etc) through businesses, pubs, industrial uses, institutions and so on.
If you buy a shop and want to change it into a takeaway, for example, you have to make a planning application for a change of use from A1 to A3.
In the past, anyone wanting to change a pub into a betting shop would also have had to apply for change of use. However amendments to the planning laws in 2005 not only created a new classification for drinking establishments, A4, they also permitted change of use from this classification to A3, A2 or A1 without the need for planning permission.
Since Paddy Power did not need to apply, there was no formal process or opportunity for local residents to object and also it seems no mechanism by which the council could prevent the betting shops opening.
During the time I've lived in Deptford (about six years) two other betting shops have opened; Macdonnell and Better. Whether or not these shops had to apply for change of use, I don't know, and I suspect the interest in such matters was not as critical or widespread then, with fewer betting shops on the high street, as it is now.
It would be interesting to know what powers, if any, Lewisham's planning authority would have should Barclay's Bank move out and Betfred decide to open a betting shop there, assuming the premises has full A2 classification.
Even if the planning inspectorate backs Lewisham's decision, don't expect this issue to go away. I'm sure even now Betfred's on the prowl - along with every other bookmaking firm - for new premises, whether failing pubs or building societies that are bailing out - in and around the south east of London.
Residents of Blackheath, Greenwich, Woolwich, Lewisham, Catford, Peckham and Elephant & Castle (Walworth) might want to keep an eye out, what with seven handily-classified ex-Nationwide premises about to become available.