You bet your life I'm angry - Saturday 12th of March 2005

A city MP was banned when American gaming chiefs outlined their plans for a super casino in Newcastle to councillors.

An angry Jim Cousins is demanding details of what went on at the meeting behind closed doors at the Civic Centre.

Council leaders say the casino meeting was private, at the request of the developers, because of the commercial sensitivity of some of the information, but minutes will be made available.

Mr Cousins, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, says he was not invited to two previous meetings, last July and November, between the council and would-be developers to discuss major projects in the area.

However, a council spokesman said: "They were not public meetings."

Mr Cousin's office contacted the council and asked if he could attend last Friday's briefing session for councillors and officers about the plan for a ??250m casino, hotel, restaurant and conference complex next to St James' Park. The Newcastle MGM proposal follows a link-up between Newcastle United and American casino operator MGM Mirage.

"I'm very unhappy," said Mr Cousins.

"It would have been perfectly acceptable if I'd been told certain aspects were confidential. But I got a flat refusal. We can't have this sort of thing going on behind closed doors."

Coun Greg Stone, Liberal Democrat development and regeneration chief, said: "This was not a political decision. We were advised by senior officers to hold the meeting in secret as there was commercially-sensitive information from MGM.

"These kind of pre-application meetings are encouraged by the Government. Labour councillors were present as well as Liberal Democrats and the minutes of the meeting will be open for inspection.

"It would have been difficult to have invited Mr Cousins without turning it into a public meeting.

"There will be a public debate in due course and the MP will have a role to play in that, but we could not do this before we heard proposals."

The plans involve a 31-storey building on a car park next to St James' Metro Station. The site is owned by Newcastle United. It is thought the scheme would create 2,200 jobs with another 4,400 indirectly and during construction.

A council spokesman said: "The consortium requested to give a presentation to councillors on proposals for a casino.

"In light of commercially-sensitive information, they requested the presentation be to councillors but not to the public.

"Minutes were taken of the meeting and will be made available like any other public document.

"No decisions at all have been taken on casinos, but when they are the council will be keen to listen to everyone's views."

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