Fargate: Sheffield city centre gambling arcade bid rejected because of crime fears
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Royal Amusements lost its gambling licence application for a former nail bar on Fargate, at the corner of Chapel Walk. Members of Sheffield City Council’s licensing committee rejected the application after a four-hour hearing this week (November 6).
Objectors included City ward Green councillors, ChangingSheff city centre residents’ association, Sheffield Cathedral, Victoria Hall Methodist Church, The Foundry at Victoria Hall and the council’s office of public health.
Initial objections made by South Yorkshire Police on the grounds that Fargate and High Street is a violent crime “policing hotspot” had been withdrawn after discussions led to additional conditions being imposed on the application.
The sub-committee refused the application on the basis that to grant it would not be reasonably consistent with the licensing objectives – in particular preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime and protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling – or consistent with the council’s licensing policy.
Sheffield director of public health Greg Fell told the meeting: “I’m not anti-gambling, I’m anti-harm from gambling. It’s something we significantly under-address here in Sheffield and every other city in the country.
“This is about a highly addictive product and the way it is marketed.”
Mr Fell said that the arcade would be close to a new NHS gambling addiction service and in a high-risk area where homeless people and those with mental health issues gather.
City ward councillor and Green Party leader Coun Douglas Johnson said: “We all know what goes on in our ward, we’ve all been down the bottom of Fargate and that’s why we’re setting out our concerns about the likely impact of this and what we think will happen if this gambling centre opens.”
He added: “Other gambling premises have quite frankly blighted the Castlegate area around Haymarket and Fitzalan Square. This area is under a huge amount of pressure and we don’t want to add to that.”
He said that the applicants claimed the area is not residential, when there are lots of flats locally and more on the way.
Peter Sephton, chair of ChangingSheff, said his group had worked to initiate help for people living on the street and 24 agencies are now involved in that area.
He said: “That area is already a source of crime and disorder, despite the best efforts of all the agencies involved. We must have regard to the people who would be attracted by the £500 daily prize.
“This is true in the hardcore street community that doesn’t respond to the availability of support and it leads to an increase in anti-social behaviour. Police resources are already stretched by the current situation around that area of Fargate, High Street, Fitzalan Square.
“Fitzalan Square needed a complete makeover at great expense to remove concealed locations and remove the instances of anti-social behaviour.”
Mr Sephton said that the council is spending £500 million on Fargate to make it an attractive place and bring in thousands more people to live in the city centre.
Rev Jonathan Haigh of Victoria Hall Methodist Church on Chapel Walk said that the church helps many vulnerable people with addiction issues. One person he supports, called David, was distressed that he would have to walk past a gambling arcade.
Rev Haigh feared that vulnerable people would be “sucked in to a gambling addiction and I don’t think that is the best thing to have on Fargate”.
He said that new developments on Fargate and Chapel Walk are exciting and questioned whether the gambling centre would be a good fit.
City centre resident Rev Ann Walton said that she lives above a betting shop and has never seen any problems but “they are putting temptation in the face of those who can least resist.
“The bottom of Fargate is a troubled area. It is a place where troubled people with addictions do gather. There are special police measures.
“It is a place where bored, excited children pour off the buses from school.
“A new place for easy, fun gambling will only increase existing problems. It is a little bit like pouring petrol on a fire.”
Mohammed Ilyas, representing Royal Amusements, said that moral objections to gambling are not relevant to licensing law. He said that his client has nine adult gambling arcades, several in areas of higher deprivation and crime in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
He added: “There have been no complaints by responsible authorities about the way those premises have been run since 1984” and described his client as “an experienced and competent operator”.
He said that South Yorkshire Police dropped their objections after Royal Amusements agreed to extra conditions being placed on the licence.
Mr Ilyas said that the firm has a high-quality management team and staff who are well trained. The firm has a Challenge 25 policy and no children would be allowed on the premises.
Staff are trained to spot any issues inside or outside the premises and deal with them promptly. They are logged and reviewed quickly by management.
He said that staff walk around the arcades and talk to customers, many of whom they know. They are trained to spot when customers may have gambling problems and will point to help and support.
Notices in the premises and on all machines also have socially responsible messages, said Mr Ilyas.
He said that the premises are attractive and welcoming. Clients are mainly older single people or couples who come in to play machines and have tea or coffee.
The machines are not the noisy, exciting type with flashing lights that attract young people into seaside amusement arcades.