MINISTERS will resurrect a crackdown on high street betting shops that was abandoned less than two years ago.

New legislation will be introduced at Holyrood within weeks to close a loophole that had allowed bookmakers to open shops without planning permission, leaving councillors powerless to prevent them flooding deprived areas.

Early last year, the SNP government performed a u-turn over plans to change planning legislation after a consultation over measures to prevent so-called 'clustering' of betting shops produced mixed views and opposition from the gambling industry. The Government concluded that "in light of stakeholder concerns" it did "not intend to make any changes to planning legislation".

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However, in a shock announcement, local government minister Kevin Stewart, who had lobbied for law changes before his frontbench promotion, revealed that legislation would now be laid before parliament after all.

He said it would remove an exclusion that had allowed some premises to be transformed into bookmakers without council permission. Former banks or estate agents for example are classed as 'financial or professional services' alongside bookmakers, and therefore planning permission to change them to gambling shops is not needed as it would not formally be classed as a change of use.

The move follows pressure from Labour MSP Monica Lennon, a chartered town planner, and the SNP grassroots which passed a motion calling for changes to legislation at last month's conference.

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Ms Lennon said: "This is a victory for campaigners and communities who have grown tired of the predatory nature of clustering, a practice that has seen the betting industry open multiple premises, often in the most disadvantaged areas.

"Previously the SNP Government promised a clampdown and then changed its mind but Kevin Stewart, who has been a critic of clustering, is sticking to his principles now that the responsibility lies with him. This is welcome.

"I want Scotland to get serious about tackling health inequalities and to build resilience in our towns and communities so I have asked the Scottish Government to go further and take steps to assess what impact the concentration of betting shops, alongside other premises such as payday loan shops and fast food takeaways, is having on our communities."

Mr Stewart said he was introducing the changes to planning as other powers that would have been more effective in tackling problem gambling were not being devolved. The UK Government has already brought in similar reforms to planning legislation in England.

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Donald Morrison, spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers in Scotland, said he would "look forward to hearing more detail" about how the Government would apply the proposed reforms.

He added: "Betting shops have been part of our high streets for 55 years and make a significant contribution to Scotland's economy, supporting around 5000 jobs and contributing over £110 million in tax revenue and business rates.

"However, the number of betting shops is in decline. More than 300 shops have closed in the last two years alone, including a significant number in Scotland, due to rising costs and increased competition.

"Betting shops are already highly regulated and we would caution against any action which undermines their long term viability."