By Daniel Hunter

Clusters of strip clubs and betting shops are hitting the economic growth of local high streets, according to most council officers surveyed by the Local Government Association.

Concerns have also been raised by the respondents that the vibrancy of high streets is being affected. Over three quarters of council officers (76 per cent) believe that strip clubs were to blame, while almost 7 in 10 (69 per cent) felt the same about bookies.

Other respondents raised concerns about the prevalence of fast food takeaways on local high streets, with almost half of respondents (45 per cent) believing they impacted upon economic growth.

Almost 9 in 10 councillors (89 per cent) and over three quarters of council officers (77 per cent) are calling on the Government to give them more powers to tackle the clustering of retail premises such as strip clubs and betting shops on high streets.

Council officers believe that diverse high streets are the key to ensuring their future success, with those considered most important being:

- retailers, such as book and clothes shops (99 per cent);
- restaurants and cafes (95 per cent);
- local butchers and bakers (93 per cent);
- amenities, such as libraries and post offices (89 per cent);
- and entertainment, such as cinemas and bowling alleys (68 per cent)

"These figures show that councils believe that the clustering of premises such as betting shops, fast food outlets and strip clubs is hitting economic growth," Councillor Clyde Loakes, Vice Chair of the LGA's Environment and Housing Board, said.

"The general public are less likely to shop on high streets with clustering, while businesses may be less willing to set up on roads with clusters of unsavoury takeaways and raunchy sex shows.

"While it is positive the Government response to the Mary Portas high street review accepted many of the views raised by town halls — tackling clustering remains an ongoing concern.

"Town halls and local people are calling on the Government to reform the tools available to councils to make local planning decisions that can prevent unwelcome clustering hitting economic growth."

Another recent LGA opinion poll found that over a third of the general public (37 per cent) state that clustering puts them off visiting their local high street, inevitably impacting upon their financial viability. The clustering of strip clubs and betting shops on high streets was also considered to have a negative effect on their vibrancy by 57 per cent and 50 per cent of the public respectively.

The previous poll also found that women and older people had the greatest concerns over strip clubs and betting shops. Nearly seven in 10 people aged 65 or more (68 per cent) said that clusters of strip clubs had a negative effect on their local high streets, while 62 per cent of women said the same.

More than three quarters (76 per cent) of local people instead want central government to give councils new powers to help shape their high streets in the interests of their communities.

At present, councils are powerless to prevent certain properties on the high street being changed into bookies. The tool at their disposal, an Article 4 Direction, is unwieldy and bureaucratic. Councils must give bookies a year's notice under the powers — or face making substantial compensation payments. This has resulted in councils being virtually powerless to shape high streets in the interests of local people.

Councils want to see a shakeup of these ‘Article 4 directions' and to see the introduction of a new local planning use class for premises of potential future local concern. Within this new ‘super' planning class, councils would be able to add premises — such as fast food takeaways or bookies — which local people believe have a negative effect on their high streets. This could also give councils the power to stop an over-concentration of supermarkets in a particular part of town, or to allow a greater diversity of smaller, independent retailers.

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