Casino plans thrown out in inquiry - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

A massive £12 million scheme to create Europes first racecourse casino in Wolverhampton has been turned down after a planning inquiry.

The shock decision was announced today by Deputy Prime Minister and local government supremo John Prescott, who "called in" the application and ordered the inquiry.

Despite agreeing the development would bring advantages to Dunstall Park racecourse and the city as a whole, he ruled preserving the existing green belt status of the proposed land was more important.

The project, which also included doubling the size of the venues existing 52-bedroom Holiday Inn hotel, was backed by the councils planning committee, against the advice of officers, 18 months ago.

At the time, the racecourses owners Arena Leisure and the Midlands-based Gala gaming group, the joint applicants, said the development would create about 185 new jobs.

It would also give the venue the opportunity to improve and expand racing, hotel, gaming, leisure and conference facilities and make Wolverhampton the envy of many other towns and cities.

In his ruling, Mr Prescott agrees with inquiry inspector Roger Priestley that the applicants had demonstrated a need for a casino in the area and that it would enhance Dunstall Parks regional attraction.

He also admits that the expansion of the hotel would help meet a pressing demand for both accommodation and conference facilities in the city, and that it would bring significant economic and employment benefits.

Mr Prescott accepts that the development would attract more punters to the racecourse and tourists to Wolverhampton, and that it would not harm the vitality of the city shopping centre.

And he says that measures planned by the applicants would "suitably" safeguard the amenities of neighbouring residents.

But he says that the development would have a "substantial" impact on the openness of the green belt at the spot, and that "very special circumstances" had not been demonstrated to override that consideration.

Ironically, the council is seeking to change the green belt status of the site as part of its review of the unitary development plan - which has been the subject of a separate public inquiry hearing.

The outcome of this inquiry is likely to be known later this year.

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