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

Notebook: Gambling occupies the ground floor, toddlers are upstairs

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

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Birth can be a dangerous business – even in the UK

Jane Merrick
Ed Miliband addresses an audience in the Brooks Building of Manchester Metropolitan University on April 21, 2015  

If socialism means building homes and getting the rich to pay their taxes, then bring on Red Ed

Kiran Moodley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before