Green group leader slams council “incompetence” after gambling centre approved

7 November 2017

The leader of the Green Party group on Norwich City Council has slammed the council’s decision to allow a new gambling venue to open on St Stephens Street, and says he has complained to the council’s licensing department over its handling of the consultation process.

Councillor Martin Schmierer, who represents Mancroft ward, where the new premises will be situated, said: “I am furious that this application has been approved, and that another gambling venue will be added to the ranks of those already fuelling addiction and inequality in Mancroft ward. The licensing committee has shown its disregard for the safety and wellbeing of residents by caving in to this irresponsible and dangerous industry.”

The new ‘adult gaming centre’ will be licensed to open all day and up until 1am, with machines with a maximum stake of £2. While this amount may sound low compared to the controversial £100-a-go fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) found in betting shops, Councillor Schmierer says evidence shows they are equally addictive and still highly damaging.

“These machines are designed to be addictive, and they are part of a culture that normalises gambling,” he argues. “After losing money in this venue, it will be all too easy for people to move on to one of the betting shops down the road. Gambling venues tend to cluster together for exactly this reason.

“This is a deprived part of Norwich with high levels of poverty and addiction. There are also several schools in the area. I am appalled that the council, which has “reducing inequality” as one of its stated aims, sees no problem in allowing this despicable industry to get its claws into the neighbourhood.”

Part of the problem, adds Councillor Schmierer, is that national regulation of gambling is so weak. “We need much stronger laws to protect vulnerable people and allow councils more power to decide that gambling venues are not welcome in their area.

“However, councils are obliged to reject applications if they believe they will increase crime or cause harm to children, and they should have done so in this case.”

Councillor Schmierer also confirmed he had complained to the licensing department after his objection, which was received within the published consultation period, was ruled inadmissible. The council’s website and the EDP both published a consultation deadline of 2nd October, but the applicant argued this was incorrect and should legally have been a day earlier. Objections received on 2nd October were therefore disallowed.

“It’s clearly not good enough when the council cannot even get its facts right, leaving others disadvantaged because of its incompetence,” he said.

“There was a similar fiasco with the recent applications for lap-dancing licences, where the consultation was not advertised online and even councillors were not informed.

“During the process of this gambling venue application, it has also come to light that the council’s Gambling Statement of Principles, which it is legally obliged to review every three years, is seven years out of date. An up-to-date statement could have helped provide evidence to refuse this application and protect residents from the gambling industry, but this Labour administration’s incompetence has left Norwich on the back foot.”

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