A warm welcome for Betfred in Greenwich? Don’t bet on it…

When I get two emails about the same issue, it’s a sign there’s a fair bit of unhappiness about it. So I’d be interested to know what you think of Greenwich’s latest retail opportunity…

Ankur was kind enough to get in touch, and asked:

Why is no one talking about the opening of another betting shop (Betfred) on Trafalgar Road? Lewisham Council recently denied planning permission to Betfred on Deptford High Street on the premise that it will have a detrimental effect on the area and the viability of the high street. Does Greenwich Council have no such concerns? Did they consult with residents on this? What is the case for allowing Betfred to open on a stretch that already has Coral and Ladbrokes? This can’t be good for attracting families to HoEG and other developments springing up around the area? Have Greenwich Council given up on revitalising this part of Greenwich?

Gordon Cooper was also good enough to drop me a line. He adds:

What about raising the issue of another giant bookies in East Greenwich? A giant Betfred is opening within close proximity to two other large betting shops.

I had thought there’s wasn’t actually very much Greenwich Council could do about it – the horse, sadly, I guessed had bolted when the site became an amusement arcade five or six years back. I hadn’t heard of a planning application going in, so I assumed Betfred had merely taken over the old planning permission. But no… for a planning application was submitted and approved in March, submitted by a “Pacemanor Limited” to convert the site into premises offering “financial and professional services”.

If 197-199 Trafalgar Road had been a bank – which it was until Barclays closed the Woolwich branch there in the mid-2000s – then Betfred wouldn’t even have needed the planning permission, thanks to a loophole in current legislation surrounding this “financial and professional services” classification.

So who was consulted over the scheme? The three Peninsula Ward councillors and 13 immediate neighbours, but that was all. Otherwise, you would have had to have kept a very close eye on weekly council propaganda paper Greenwich Time, or studied the planning permission lists on the council’s website every week.

Lewisham rejected the Deptford High Street Betfred because of an “over-concentration of betting office uses in the vicinity”. In east Greenwich, there’s been a Corals and Ladbrokes close by for about a decade, but a branch of Coomes closed further down Trafalgar Road about four years ago, and another on Woolwich Road shut earlier this year. So perhaps it would be hard to argue an “over-proliferation” of bookies.

But then again, isn’t three in 100 yards an excess? Until the mid-1990s, there were three banks on that same 100-yard stretch, now there are none. The betting industry’s changing, and neighbourhood bookies like Coomes are going in favour of cluster of betting shops-cum-amusement arcades on high streets.

A similar issue occurred in Blackheath a few months ago, when a McDonnells branch, with an ugly bright red frontage, suddenly appeared a couple of doors up from the Ladbrokes on Westcombe Hill – and across the green from a Coomes/Jennings outlet. Whenever the bookmakers start swooping on a high street, the perception is that the parade must be in decline.

Deptford Dame and Crosswhatfields have extensively covered the issues in SE8, and are essential reading for anyone concerned about this issue. Charity Living Streets has launched a campaign, The Local Joke, to force bookmakers to get planning permission before they can convert premises into betting shops. Although that wouldn’t have helped on this occasion, with Greenwich nodding it through anyway.

Still, if Greenwich Council had its way, we would have a casino in the Dome by now. But that’s another story


  1. Ok – as one of the three local councillors concerned I didn’t pick up ‘betting shop’ as what was meant by ‘financial and professional services’.
    After the long battle we had with the amusement arcade it looked as though things might be changing.
    I know that the Planner’s rules limit the number of people who are officially consulted – unofficially I told people on my newsletter round – and I remember speculative conversations with a number of residents – as I guess the other two did too.
    (deep sigh)

  2. I’ve been wandering round in a daze since i saw the same being echoes in Woolwich next to the newly restored General Gordon square…and in the Maritime Green wich College building…guess what? Ladbrokes…right next to the Paddy Power….who on earth works all this out? How is this supposed to be lifting the quality of the estate//let alone providing a range of retail for shoppers. To me it makes no sense…how many gambling houses do we need in Greenwich. Enough is enough.

    Green wich council should be providing incentives to upgrade retail in Woolwich.

  3. Dear Mary – thanks for responding, but I have to say ‘Oops…I didn’t realise’ is an apalling response.

    I would imagine that the whole point of involving experienced councillors like yourself in the planning process is so you can pick up on things like these. This has been such a topical issue not only in neighbouring bouroughs but nationwide recently that it makes your explanation even harder to digest.

    I am assuming the answer is no, but is there anything that can be done restrospectively about Betfred opening up? At the very least, can a saturation policy be put in place for betting shops and planning rules amended to exclude betting shops from the ‘financial services’ umbrella?

    Needless to say, the impact of this will be felt for years to come because once bookies get in, that space on the high street is lost for a very, very long time.


    P.S. Is there a regeneration masterplan in place to revitalise rafalgar Road as a high street?
    P.P.S Has it been agreed what kind of shops will be allowed to open in the new HoEG development?

  4. Blimey. Mary has fessed up to a mistake and she cops grief. That’s fair innit?! Mary, keep being honest, it’s unusual in a politician!

    I have no idea how long Mary has been a councillor, but she’s admitted she was unaware that in Orwellian Council Speak ‘financial and professional services’ can mean a bookies (I love it!!).

    Well, we know now, let’s all learn from it, I’m sure Mary has.

    At least you admit that having a bookies move in means that the space will be occupied for a ‘very, very long time’.

    Don’t you think that means there’s a demand for it?

    And your assertion that families will be put off moving to the area because a branch of BetFred has opened is, frankly, somewhat ridiculous.

    Also, I note Daryl mentions the McDonnells bookies opening at the Standard. I drove by it not 30 minutes ago and the gangs of crazed, money-starved punters and unsavoury persons of that ilk who it were asserted by some would lower the tone of the place were not to be seen marauding about. House prices seem to be holding up as well, with some families actually moving into the area judging by the removal van unloading around the corner.

    I totally agree that the shopfront is hideous though!

  5. – “Blimey. Mary has fessed up to a mistake and she cops grief.”

    I am happy to give Mary credit for being honest and fessing up (and for all the other good work she continues to do for her ward and the borough), but fessing up doesn’t make it all better.

    – “I have no idea how long Mary has been a councillor, but she’s admitted she was unaware that in Orwellian Council Speak ‘financial and professional services’ can mean a bookies (I love it!!).”

    That’s my point – it is a councillor’s job to know, or should be if it isn’t. Otherwise what is the point of being consulted?

    – “At least you admit that having a bookies move in…Don’t you think that means there’s a demand for it?”

    No it doesn’t always. While there might be an element of servicing a demand, bookies can occupy shops for very long times because they have huge cashpiles and they can (and do!) keep loss making shops open just to keep presence on high streets. It takes a long, long time for them to give up.

    – “And your assertion that families will be put off moving to the area because a branch of BetFred has opened is, frankly, somewhat ridiculous.”

    No it isn’t. You clearly miss the point. It isn’t about specifically about a branch of Betfred opening up, it is about the overall state of the high street, and what the opening of another bookie (instead of a nice pub, or family restaurant) says about the where it is heading. The feel of an area is a big factor in people deciding to move to it, and a ‘living’ high street with great restaurants/cafes/pubs/shops will always be desirable over a street with 3 bookies within 100 yards of each other, a tattoo parlour and some boarded up stores. There are clearly some great shops like La Salumeria/Theatre of Wine, but it would be nice if such shops were the rule rather than exception.

    As for your assertion about the lack of crazed unsavoury persons in/around McDonnells, that is downright bizarre reasoning frankly. You clearly do not comprehend the notion of probability – there is clearly a higher probability of trouble the more such establishments you have on a street. They tend to attract a higher percentage of certain kinds of people than say your local WH Smith. So Darryl’s assertion that when bookies swoop on a street it creates a perception of a downward trend is valid.

    At the end of the day, I was airing a complaint to Darryl, not writing a nuanced piece for the weekend broadsheet. A little common sense context was assumed. My annoyance with Mary’s response is that it has an ‘oh, well’ feel to it. It would help to know what will be done to prevent this happening in the future, did she understand the frustration I was airing about the state of Trafalgar Road, does the borough have a policy / guidelines to revitalise this street, etc.

    Through our differing opinions we do share common ground on the hideous sign though!

  6. Ankur – I actually don’t think we differ that much. I completely agree with you about a mixed and varied selection of shops. But this isn’t Utopia. I’m afraid in these days and ages landlords are going to go with the big guns rather than risk sole traders. That’s a great pity but true.

    This why landlords like bookies, they cough up. And again I ask, if it’s not a bookies, would you like a boarded up shop front for the next six years?

    We will have to agree to differ on the standards of the ‘certain kinds’ who make up the gambling fraternity. I think pubs tend to attract more of that type.

    Without putting words into Mary’s mouth, she at least seems to have learnt a lesson.

    And, again backing you, I too would like to see what, if any, plans the council has for the area. That said, if it’s all privately owned do the council have the power to say ‘yes’ to a fishmonger as opposed to a Starbucks? I’m interested in knowing.

  7. It is a difficult problem to solve. The council does however a few weapons in its arsenal. These are planning/licensing laws, saturation policies, and masterplans. As an example, in the case I referred to in my email to Darryl, Lewisham council was able to attach a ‘except betting shop’ clause to ‘financial and professional services’. Saturation policies, as far as I know, are currently used to restrict how many shops in a given area can sell alcohol, but there’s no reason why this idea can’t (and shouldn’t) be extended to other areas. With masterplans a council can sets what percentage of available shop frontage in a given area will be earmarked for general retail, financial and professional services (!), restaurants, etc. Happy to be corrected if I have got any of this wrong. But clearly, deployed wisely, these are powerful devices that can shape the character of a high street.

    Beyond that, it’ll come down to demand and supply and trial and failure. Entrepreneurs will try and guess demand and sentiment, start a venture, and if the locals patronise it, it will do well and encourage others to follow in a similar mould. On streets like Trafalgar Road where there isn’t naturally a lot of footfall, it will always come down to someone making a leap of faith to bring people out.

    I hope the council gets it right in terms of planning/licensing for the numerous new developments planned in the area that contain retail space.

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