Mary Dejevsky: Now, Mary Portas, what about betting shops?

Notebook: Gambling occupies the ground floor, toddlers are upstairs

Share
Related Topics

The Government's tsarina of Britain's high streets, Mary Portas, has recommended limits on the number of (tax-privileged) charity shops permitted in any one place. I wish her luck. When I condemned the proliferation of charity shops a year or so ago, describing them as parasites feeding off small business, I received one of the most furious e-postbags I have ever had, and not a few personal envoys from charities trying to convince me of the error of my ways.

Oh, but their supporters say, charity shops are a boon to those who cannot afford to buy new. And they keep the high street alive, when empty shops can't find other takers. And they provide charities with a significant and steady source of income. Cancer Research, for instance, earns around 15 per cent of its £400m-plus income this way.

To which my argument, and I hope Ms Portas's, is that the problem is not the principle of charity shops, which is laudable, but their concentration in particular areas. The point is that the tax breaks, rate rebates and the like, enjoyed by charity shops distort the local business landscape.

And the distortion grows with each new arrival. Few councils want to improve, or even maintain, streets where almost no one pays rent or rates; the environment deteriorates, and there goes the high street. Empty shops show that rent and rates are too high; not that some, however good the cause, should be exempt.

If the heat from the voluble charity lobby becomes too much, Ms Portas might turn her attention to another blight affecting many of the same areas: the plague of betting shops. Last week the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, finally saw sense – maybe one has just moved in next door, where the butcher or baker used to be – and reversed his view on whether such establishments should require planning permission. Of course they should.

Alas, his conversion probably comes too late for many high streets. All over the country, council-tax payers are complaining about the triffid-like advance of betting shops, which require no special permission before setting up in former post offices, pubs and corner shops. I know the feeling. There are two rival betting shops around the corner from our flat. One has a nursery above it – No, you haven't misunderstood, gambling occupies the ground floor; mothers have to get their toddlers upstairs.

Yet when a major supermarket applied to open a small store in vacant premises not 100 yards away, offering residents a source of cheaper, healthier food than the corner shop and myriad sandwich bars provide, it was refused planning permission because of potential noise and nuisance (delivery vans and customers, I presume).

It's my loss, I know, but the charms of modern classical music, as in post-Schoenberg, electronic, serial and the rest, have rather escaped me. Messiaen is about as recent as my classical appreciation gets. Driving along a jammed motorway a few days ago, though, I caught a recording of the Concerto for Orchestra and Birds by the contemporary Finnish composer, Rautavaara, which incorporates ever-longer passages of recorded birdsong. It is utterly captivating.

Rautavaara, I learnt, is seen as the heir to Sibelius, whose symphonies feature in a new series at the Barbican, and both belong in a very specific Finnish tradition. And while the degree to which music reflects landscape and national character may be nowhere more evident than with Finland, it's often left to foreigners to note how eloquently Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten reflect us.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tessa fizzes with ideas; she has all the warmth in the world but a core of steel  

Why Tessa Jowell gets my vote for London Mayor

Alan Johnson
Was this the game when the public started to fall back in love with English cricket?  

How can anyone say Test match cricket is dying after this glorious, complex battle?

Matthew Norman
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf