Plans for a new bookies in Aylesbury’s Market Square have been thrown out by councillors.
Aylesbury Vale District Council’s planning committee decided to gamble on defeating any appeal by Betfred after overturning officers’ recommendation to back the plan.
Politicians voted by 10 to four in favour of refusing the proposal, saying the loss of a retail unit in such a prime position would be unacceptable.
The unit at the top of the square, between the Skipton Building Society and the King’s Head Passage, has been empty for nearly two years after First Choice moved out and, despite marketing, no retail companies have been found to fill it.
Officers argued there was no indication a bookies would weaken the area’s offer, but the majority of councillors disagreed, with some concurring with town centre manager Diana Fawcett that they would rather see the site stay empty than become a betting shop.
Councillor Tom Hunter-Watts said the bookies would ‘detract from the vitality and the overall offering’ of the square.
Councillor Julie Ward agreed, saying: “I can’t see how having this here will enhance or contribute to the economic revival of our town.”
Another to speak out against the plan was Councillor Freda Roberts, who said her wedding ring had come from the store when it was a jewellers and that allowing it to become a bookies would add to the ‘worsening’ economic situation.
However, committee chairman, Councillor Janet Blake, supported the plan.
Mrs Blake said: “I go into betting shops because I like a flutter.
“There must be many other people like me that will go in and have a bet when they feel they can.
“A betting shop is economic growth. It has the potential to create jobs.”
However, Mrs Blake’s words and the advice of planning officers won few supporters in the chamber.
Councillor Chris Adams said it would be ‘insensitive’ to open a bookies next to the town’s war memorial, while Councillor Judy Brandis cast doubt on how many people the shop would attract to the area.
The plan had already been opposed by Aylesbury Town Council, which said: “Some smoking customers may choose to loiter on this highly visible front throughfare, sit on the war memorial wall, loiter in the King’s Head Passage, or hide away in the very narrow access to the rear of the building.
“We do not wish to see the occasional anti-social behaviour which occurs in Kingsbury also happening in the Market Square.”
These comments were backed up by Mrs Fawcett, who said in her objection: “Another betting shop in the town centre would seriously impact our attempts to revive retail and increase the cafe/restaurant offer.”
There are currently eight gambling shops in the town centre area.
Councillors questioned if the rent for the unit, with agents offering the whole three-storey building for £60,000 a year, was too high to attract retailers.
Officers said other units of similar size in the same area were being marketed at a comparable rate.
Two other planning applications for the building are currently being considered which, if approved, would create flats on the first and second floors with retail and office space on the ground floor.