Mayor told think again over casino - Sunday 9th of August 2009

AYOR Nick Bye is being urged to drop the idea of a new casino for Torquay amid claims it may be put on hold for 18 months.

The £50,000 set aside this year for the project and allocated officer time could be better spent, say the Lib Dems.

They claim around the country 10 casinos have closed down as the recession starts to take hold.

The mayor has asked for a report setting out the latest position and to investigate whether delaying the project for a year or 18 months would damage the resorts prospects of getting any casino. The council is about to produce a gambling policy.

Following the councillors briefing Liberal Democrat group leader Steve Darling said it was clear a new casino would only be likely to lead to a couple of dozen more jobs at best.

He wrote to Mr Bye saying: "The Liberal Democrats have always been casino sceptics. My scepticism has increased. The Government has also changed the tax regime for casinos, and the UK is experiencing an economic downturn.

"Given all the above I and many others are curious to know why you are so hell bent on this project, when there will be little, if any, gain for local people.

"The £50,000 you have set aside for this project, and the council officer time involved, would I am sure be better spent on something more worthwhile."

Cllr Darling told the Herald Express: "As it is now obviously not going to be Torbays economic saviour as the mayor said it would be, it is time for him to think again on this project."

Bay MP Adrian Sanders, said: "I warned right from the start of the process the sums would not stack up, and were probably never going to, even when the economy was not in trouble. It was never going to be a goer.

"But a lot of council taxpayers money has been wasted in pursuit of this dream which never had public support.

"The mayor needs to put forward a vision for the seafront which has the support of the people of Torquay, not something put together by external agents."

Mayor Bye denied he was hell bent on the casino.

"I think we should have an open mind on this. Things have moved on from two or three years ago with the casino business."

He said when the idea was first mooted there seemed to be widespread support for the idea. But opinions at the workshop ranged from those keen to see a new casino in the town to those who strongly oppose it.

Mr Bye said: "There are so many more other opportunities available to Torbay than there were two or three years ago. The tax regime for casinos has also changed so there is less profit for operators, the economy has also slowed down and the leisure industry is having a hard time.

"What was on offer two or three years ago might not be on offer now. But maybe things will get better in a year or two.

"I always said what we wanted was an entertainment complex, rather like a cruise ship experience, which will draw in high spending visitors to the Bay.

"If in this climate the community benefit of this scheme is less attractive, then I think we have to have an open mind on it.

"I have always believed there have got to be community benefits and it has got to an attraction in its own right.

"If there are two companies keen on getting the licence then we will be in a strong position to negotiate on those benefits, otherwise we wont."

But he said areas like Newquay and Bournemouth would be keen to have the licence if Torbay didnt take it up.

"We mustnt shoot ourselves in the foot, pull out and then in five years time find Bournemouth or Newquay have wonderful new casinos pulling the visitors in."

Last autumn the council said it was talking to up to six developers who have been drawing up plans for the waterfront area in the hopes of going into partnership with Torbay Council.

Proposals suggested include a permanent ice rink within the banjo area as well as a hotel and casino complex on the harbours edge.

Other developers have suggested expanding the Princess Theatre and providing an outdoor arena with associated restaurants and shops.

Torbay Development Agency is in talks with a number of developers and operators regarding the casino licence. The next stage of the process is for Torbay Council to consult on its revised gambling policy prior to the licensing competition getting underway.

The new draft Torquay harbourside area action plan states that Torquay prom around the banjo and the Pavilion needs extensive repairs and a solution is needed which can generate significant income to finance this work.

The report suggests a redeveloped Pavilion, possibly taking in a larger area around the sea-facing and harbour side of the historic building, up to the banjo, and providing a new use for the Pavilion, could help raise funds for repairs to the building and prom.

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