MOVES to restrict the opening of new betting shops on East Lancashire’s high streets have divided opinion.

Local leaders spoke after the government announced changes to the way new bookies open.

Planning permission is not currently needed to open a betting shop in the UK, but planning minister Nick Boles said that would change in a bid to promote ‘healthy and vibrant’ town centres, following a consultation period.

It means council planning departments will have the power to decide whether a betting company receives planning permission.

Firms will also be required to show they are complying with social-responsibility codes when applying for a licence, and to make customers betting more than £50 on virtual casino machines go to the counter and interact with staff.

Hyndburn and Haslingden MP Graham Jones, who has long campaigned against the gambling machines dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, said the new proposals do not go far enough.

He said: “This is a weak government and a weak prime minister who have chosen the gambling industry over problem gamblers.

“There are no policies in there to help the problem. The government is not serious about helping gamblers.

“There are 33,000 fixed odds betting terminals in the UK - the new plans will not reduce that number.”

A spokeswoman for Rossendale Council however said: “Rossendale Borough Council welcomes these new powers, although they would not particularly help areas that already seemed to have too many betting shops.

“We would aim to use the new powers on a case by case scenario having listened to any local residents concerns.”

Burnley Council’s head of regeneration and planning policy, Kate Ingram, said: “We welcome policies designed to create vibrant and healthy town centres with a good retail offer – this is a key objective of the council.”

A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said: “Local authorities already have powers to decide whether betting shops can be opened or not, because betting shops need a licence from the local authority.

“The industry will be responding to the consultation over the next few weeks.”