MP calls for Yarmouth casino action

Stephen PullingerAn MP last night accused Great Yarmouth council leaders of gambling with jobs and economic prosperity by allowing the town to slip behind in the race to build the first large casino.Stephen Pullinger

An MP last night accused Great Yarmouth council leaders of gambling with jobs and economic prosperity by allowing the town to slip behind in the race to build the first large casino.

Tony Wright, MP for Yarmouth, spoke out after it was revealed that under a revised timeline, the borough council would not be launching the bidding process for the prestigious large casino licence, one of eight to be awarded nationally under the 2005 Gambling Act, until September.

And following two rounds of assessment, the winner would not be known until September next year - more than a year later than had originally been hoped.

Meanwhile, Newham council in London became the first large casino venue to invite applications for the licence in an advert published on February 5 and is planning to choose the developer as early as December 23.

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Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in the West Midlands is set to be the second large casino venue to start the bidding process, subject to a cabinet decision on March 24.

Among eight small casino venues permitted by the new legislation, Scarborough is also poised to begin advertising, stealing a march on Yarmouth in the race to build the first of the new casinos on the East coast.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council's cabinet member for tourism and regeneration, Graham Plant, said the authorities leading the race had spent thousands of pounds on barristers to ensure their application process was legally water-tight.

But he warned it had yet to be tested in court and, if the process went wrong, there was a danger of protracted legal wrangles with sectors of the gaming industry opposed to the new casinos possibly holding up a decision for years.

By holding back and maintaining a watching brief, Yarmouth was saving money on consultants' costs and reducing the risk of court challenges.

Mr Plant added: 'Newham and Solihull are inland sites while we are a holiday destination and already have a captive audience. So we are not that desperate to be first, but are desperate to get the process right.'

However, Mr Wright said operators would be 'jumping at the chance' for the kudos and national publicity of opening the first casino.

He described the council's cautious, money-saving strategy as 'short-term financial management'.

'It's outrageous because there is so much at risk. This is a prestige development that will create lots of jobs that are needed in the town as quickly as possible,' he said.

And he warned that while builders were crying out for work at the moment, when the recession ended construction costs would soar.

Pleasure Beach boss Albert Jones, whose proposed �35m complex on South Denes remains the only large casino scheme to have reached the stage of planning approval in Yarmouth, admitted the latest delay was 'disappointing'.

He said: 'If other councils have got the work done, I can't see why we are so far behind when Yarmouth is crying out for new facilities and jobs.'

Mr Jones said he and his partners had everything in place to deliver the scheme, to be called The Edge, quickly.

It is hoped 1,000 jobs would be created by the plans, which include a four-star hotel, eight-screen cinema, 18-lane bowling alley, six restaurants and parking for more than 800 vehicles, as well as a casino, run by the operator Aspers.