Written evidence submitted by West London Citizens (GA 55)

West London Citizens has been working with groups in Westminster since October 2009 and at our December borough meeting members raised the issue of the increasing number of gambling premises that have spread with a one-mile radius of Chinatown.

On behalf of the groups in the area, London Citizens would like to submit the following for the DCMS select committee new inquiry in gambling:

1. West London Citizens is part of the broader London Citizens network, the capital's largest and most diverse alliance of active citizens and community leaders. London Citizens brings together over 250 faith congregations, universities, schools, trade union branches and community groups working together for the common good. Members all share a commitment to taking action for the common good, and helping people of all backgrounds and ages to become active leaders who can help shape the public life of the city.

2. The high prevalence of gambling premises in Soho and Westminster has ultimately altered the disposition of high streets in the area. It was an issue raised during the monthly Westminster borough meeting in December, where members voted for action to freeze growing numbers of licenses issued by Westminster for gambling establishments in the area.

3. The campaign ‘STOP Gambling with our Neighbourhood’ addresses the social impact that gambling has on problem gamblers, their families and society in general. As a result, an action group was established to look into the issue and take action. Communities deserve the right to have a say on the character of their neighbourhoods.

4. Our campaign is a call to the City of Westminster to freeze the number of gambling outlets in the area and to reduce the harm of problem gambling in the local communit   ies.

5. Although the Gambling Act of 2005 allows the Council the possibility of not granting a licence where the impact on vulnerable groups can be demonstrated, in practice this has never happened. In response a coalition of different groups have come together in the spirit of the "Big Society" to curb the clustering of gambling premises in areas where it would have an impact on vulnerable groups already prone to addictive behaviour.

6. Our research (full report available upon request) conducted last summer highlighted the impact it has on the local community, especially the ones who live and work in London Chinatown. Our findings reveal the impact on their lives and highlight the vulnerability that is being exploited by the gambling industry. It emphasises the case for change on a local level, and to urge the local authorities to use their power to refuse gambling licenses to protect the vulnerable. We are seeking Central Government to change national policy and shift the odds in favour of the industry to the community and commit to the big society agenda.

7. The Chinatown Economic Development Study (September 2004) commissioned by the council assessed the economic, social and cultural standing of the area. The study revealed Chinatown was in a fragile state and further influx of non-Chinese businesses could prove detrimental to the character; not only does it potentially dilute the charm of the area, which is part of its Unique Selling Point, but it could also have an impact on rental levels due to the ability of larger corporate companies. With such a large proportion (90%) of the Chinatown businesses being tenants, this leaves them considerably more vulnerable to market change than if they were owner occupiers.

8. Chinatown is included in the Soho Conservation Area which guides the quality of the local townscape and the extent of any physical changes, helping to maintain its unique character and function.

9. The core area of Chinatown, as defined in the above study and action plan which includes Newport Place, already has eight betting shops – if this application was granted, the total would be nine. Moreover, non-core area of Chinatown contains 31 Gambling establishments within a 500 meter radius of Betfred in Gerrard Street which opened in February this year and 63 within a one mile radius of these premises (City of Westminster Licensing Sub-Committee report 28/10/10).

10. The predominant uses within the Chinatown area were A1, A3 and residential. A1 uses have remained fairly constant over the past decade, but A3 uses have increased since the late 1990’s. However, since the amendment of the Gambling Act 2005 which came into force in 2007, three restaurants and a bar in the area have closed making way for FOUR additional betting shops.

11. Demand from gambling operators’ will push the rent upwards and the local Chinese businesses outwards. London Chinatown will be left only by name and a "gambling town" within "Chinatown" would emerge. Chinatown would lose its identity and its cultural characteristics will fade away from tourist maps as a tourist attraction and destination. Residents in the area have already been approached by chartered surveyors on behalf of their clients in connection with their acquisition programme; where they are offering a premium for the right property.

12. The Chinese Information and Advice Centre’s Women Together Against Abuse (WTAA) is a four year project funded by London councils to provide domestic violence support for Chinese women, 2009 figures highlighted that one in eight of the cases are gambling related. The subsequent opening of a pawn shop in Frith Street may possibly be an indicator of the growing problem of gambling in the area.

13. Gamcare funded Chinese Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) gambling project which began in 2008. The aim is not only for the problem gamblers to quit or to bring their gambling under control, but also to improve the health and social aspects of family members who are affected by their gambling habits. The Chinese community in the UK, gambling addiction is prevalent. Most of the CMHA’s clients are mi-grant workers in the Chinese catering industry living in the UK’s large cities. This project has an existing team of 5 counsellors led by a qualified Certified Gambling Counsellor. In the run up to February 2010 CMHA has helped 145 Chinese gamblers who have benefited from our emotional support and/or counselling services and over 900 Chinese benefited including gamblers, family members and carers via the education talks or workshops from this project in different cities of the UK. The gamblers’ age range are from 24 to 71 years old. In 2009 the project saw an increase of 30% of gamblers seeking help.

14. Client Statistics (UK) 80% catering industry, 70% self-referral, 95% required emotional support or counselling and 43% are from Lon-don. The funding came to an end in September 2010 but CMHA has decided to continue with the project on a voluntary basis due to the high demand in the community.

15. The increase in demand for counselling services provided by Chinese organisations and several case studies verify the existence of negative societal effects of gambling and the astounding damage that can be done to families and individuals suffering from the resulting psychological distress or in some cases a lower standard of life. In turn, lower standards of living can lead to a poverty trap. An important issue to recognise is that the individual cases do not represent a minority of problem-gamblers; they represent a wider community of people.

16. Any claim that another betting shop would promote diversity; given the existing number of Gambling Establishments saturating neighbourhoods around the London is complete nonsense. The safeguarding of the character and its role as a "community space" is thus of crucial importance to the local residents and the local community.

Map of Gambling Outlets in the Soho / Chinatown area (Westminster)

The Map [1] highlights the density of 31 gambling premises (yellow stars) in a 500 meter radius of the new licence granted to 32 Gerrard Street (red star)

17. The legislation as it stands will enable the gambling industry to continue on their strategy to build the cluster of gambling prem-ises in the Chinatown area, this in turn will escalate the problems associated with gambling. Local authorities are instructed to grant licenses unless they can prove that the prospective premises will have an adverse impact on the vulnerable. In addition, councils are deterred from ever challenging the power that bookmakers enjoy by the £10,000 legal costs that are applied if a council should decide to overturn the decision by the Magistrates court. However, local authorities are well within their powers to reject applications where evidence demonstrate that the licensing objec-tives are not being met.

18. Our call to a freeze in the number of licenses in Westminster high-light the case at a local level which runs counter to the Big Society commitment. If the new coalition government wants local com-munities to have a greater say in the decisions which affect them, but at the same time refuses to listen, the Big Society agenda is surely doom to failure.

June 2011

[1] Not printed.

Prepared 1st August 2011