Barnet Council has intervened on planning and licensing grounds to ensure a full hearing of the views of local residents before a decision is made on whether to allow an adult gaming centre to open in Barnet High Street.
Almost 700 objections have been registered with the council relating to five separate applications by Merkur Slots UK Ltd to open a bingo hall and gaming venue in what until recently was a branch of the TSB bank.
Councillor Paul Edwards, who is a High Barnet councillor and who is also chair of the council’s Adults and Safeguarding Committee, told the Barnet Society that he had “called in” the application to ensure there was an opportunity for a wider discussion.
This will ensure that ward councillors as well as local residents can speak at a public hearing and make their representations.
There has been united opposition to the plan from Chipping Barnet Town Team, the Barnet Society and Barnet Residents Association which have all voiced their concern about potential damage to the High Street and harm to vulnerable adults at risk from gambling.
Councillor Edwards made his intervention days before the closing date of Monday 18 July for objections to four separate planning applications made by Merkur Slots – and the council’s website lists 669 objections alone to the lead application.
There is an additional gambling premises licence application and the council’s licensing sub-committee agreed earlier in the month that it would hold a full meeting to discuss this, and local residents would have the opportunity to submit written representations.
Merkur Slots, which operates 200 adult gaming venues across the country, already has premises offering bingo and games in a former bank building in Ballards Lane, Finchley.
There were over 600 objections to this gaming centre – and approval was refused by Barnet Council – but Merkur Slots won on appeal.
In approving the Finchley gaming centre in February 2021, the planning inspector disagreed with the council and said it would bring a vacant property back into use and provide “environmental benefits” for the Finchley Church End Town Centre.
“In addition, there would be social and economic benefits for the locality both from employment opportunities and the occupation of the building.”
Merkur Slots have won four other planning appeals in the last two years and their success in overcoming local opposition has alarmed High Barnet’s community and residents’ groups.
Robin Bishop, who chairs the Barnet Society’s planning team, welcomed the council’s action in allowing a proper democratic discussion within the locality.
In its objection, the society said that opening a gaming centre in the High Street – in addition to the three existing betting shops – would detract from the visual and commercial attractiveness of High Barnet and attract vulnerable and anti-social users.
There was a high concentration of educational establishments close to the High Street which catered for young adults who might be considered over the age of 25 and who might not be asked for identification.
In addition, there were numerous pubs, bars, and restaurants nearby and their predominantly young and low-paid staff routinely patronised any premises still open on completion of their late-night shifts.
“High Barnet is also home to vulnerable adults and in particular young adults living in supported or priority housing accommodation.”
Gail Laser, founder of Love Barnet, said she feared a gaming centre would make it even harder to attract quality businesses to the High Street.
“It saddens me that such establishments are being allowed to open on our high streets…If the powers that be decided to allow this hateful business it will encourage the next generation of gamblers. How sad is that.”
In publicity supporting its application, Merkur Slots said its gaming centres offer gambling machines with low stakes ranging from 10p to £2; the average stake is between 30 to 40p.
“Our venues operate a Think 25 policy whereby any persons who look under 25 have to produce a form of identification.”
Merkur Slots said it was immensely proud that the company had never had a licence revoked or even reviewed and incidents involving noise or disturbance were extremely rare.
Well over 100 of the company’s gaming centres are run on a 24-hour basis and each centre offers between six and a dozen jobs depending on the hours of operation.
“We do not serve alcohol on our premises…Our customer base after midnight is predominately the local entertainment workforce and shift workers who like to relax after their busy shifts.”
Barnet Society member Nick Saul offers advice on how to comment on the application:
"Comments can still be made to the gaming centre application and it can be seen on the Barnet Planning portal:
Comments can now best be made by email, the deadline for using the planing portal having past. However comments made now before a decision is taken at a planning committee will still be considered. If you try to make a comment do not be put off by the deadline notification but submit a comment to the email address shown:
Comments should state the application number and description:
22/3158/FUL | Change of use of ground floor of vacant bank (Class E) to Adult Gaming Centre (Sui Generis) | 118 High Street Barnet EN5 5XQ
Also you should include your title (Mr, Ms, Mrs or Miss will do or anything else you can claim) name, full postal address, a phone number and state that you are commenting as a member of the public and confirm if you object to the scheme.
While there are numerous reasonable objections due to legislation making gambling establishments a special case in planning terms those most likely to halt this at committee and appeal are:
"High Barnet has special characteristics making it particularly unsuitable for this sort of gambling establishment. These include having an unusually large number of young adults who would look over 25 years old:
1) in colleges and schools with sixth forms in close proximity to the proposed casino;
2) in local daytime and evening employment in the town and;
3) forming a considerable proportion of the significant number of vulnerable people placed in local accommodation by social services and other agencies.”