Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Memoranda


Letter from Gordon Marsden MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  As Member of Parliament for a town which has been at the centre of debate about the potential for resort casinos in the wake of the Budd report and the Government's response, I very much welcome your Select Committee inquiry, which is certainly timely and I hope will be influential. I have read your broad terms of reference and was particularly anxious to contribute some thoughts in written form on those concerned with the potential contribution of casino-development to the economy and on the social impact of the changes proposed.

  I believe that these proposals, so far as a seaside town like Blackpool is concerned, need to be set in the broader context of seaside and coastal town renewal and steps that need to be taken to achieve regeneration for the benefit of residents as well as businesses. To this end I would like to submit for consideration as written evidence the recent enclosed article I wrote for The House Magazine [dated 8 April 2002—not printed] surveying the issues at stake and key questions to be asked as to whether resort casinos can provide such benefits. I have also enclosed a copy of a letter which I am currently sending out to constituents asking for my views on the resort casino proposals where again I try, as analytically as possible, to spell out the questions that I believe any local authority, whether Blackpool or whoever, needs to pose before granting planning permission for any resort casino proposals that might be facilitated by the Government's response to Budd.

  I would also like to expand, for the Committee's benefit, on one crucial issue at the heart of the current debate in Blackpool—how the local community might benefit directly from any such development. Your Committee will no doubt see a range of projections as to the indirect benefits by way of increased employment, projected visitor growth and spend, that resort casinos might bring to Blackpool but these by their very nature will have to be speculative and will not automatically address the concerns of those who feel that the benefits so described will not inevitably remain within a resort or—in terms of employment—automatically benefit the existing local population. That is why there has been so much focus on the potential to replicate the situation in Atlantic City where I understand the State legislature has enabled a direct levy to be earmarked from casino operators' revenue to benefit community regeneration initiatives.

  The difficulty I foresee in trying to transplant this mechanism here is that the current UK legislative framework offers little precedent for such hypothecation and it is an open question as to how the Government might be able to or wish to respond to such a proposal. It is of course possible that in the wake of regional developments, including possible elected assemblies in the North West and elsewhere, that in the future, say 5-10 years hence, there might be more legislative scope for such a levy. In the meantime however, I believe it would be worthwhile potential casino operators and local authorities (including Blackpool) exploring together the possibility for a direct voluntary though legally enforceable agreement, which would have the same effect by earmarking a percentage of turnover, profit or a mix based on a bottom-line flat annual payment for community use from the income generated by such activities. These might be matters your Committee might wish to explore in its oral sessions with witnesses, as I believe that taking all sections of the community along with any initiative for resort casinos would be a crucial element in their success.

  I understand that you have invited a team from Blackpool Council to give evidence and will doubtless also be wanting to interview some of the potential operators of resort casinos, such as Leisure Parcs. I wish you luck in what should undoubtedly be an extremely interesting enquiry and hope that the enclosures and issues raised in this letter will make a useful contribution to your deliberations.




  Thank you for your recent letter about the above.

  I start from the assumption—shared probably by the vast majority of Blackpool residents—that the town urgently needs a major regeneration initiative to develop and sustain its tourist industry and in conjunction with that major new state-of-the-art conference facilities are needed. I have said on a number of occasions that I would examine carefully all and any proposals that came forward that looked likely to achieve those aims. The Leisure Parcs resort casinos proposals have so far been the most worked-out and ambitious of the various ideas floated but the Council as the planning authority will need quite rightly to evaluate them and any other proposals coming forward with the utmost rigour. I have also said that to be successful any casino-based regeneration scheme needs to carry maximum support from all sectors of the community and address the issue of how it would benefit social and community initiatives in the town financially apart from any indirect benefits that might come to local employment and the economy.

  I should also point out that although the Government has made it clear that it is minded to legislate to allow development of the sort proposed by Leisure Parcs, it has not yet put forward detailed proposals on this issue and moves to take the proposals forward will now depend on changes in the law for which Parliamentary time will have to be found—for good or ill, it will not be an overnight process.

  I recognise that there will be a number of individuals and groups opposed on principle to liberalisation of gaming and resort casinos. I respect those views, though I do not share them. I suspect like the vast majority of people in Blackpool that my views will be conditioned by the detail of what may be on offer, and the framework within which the proposals are developed, as well as the need to be as sure as possible that any initiative will bring about the prosperity and regeneration desperately needed.

  I intend therefore to continue, with my colleague Joan Humble, to spend a great deal of time listening to the arguments, talking to a wide range of groups and individuals and weighing the points put forward. I hope that this is the sort of thoughtful approach that most residents would expect on this debate.

  Finally, I note your call for a referendum. I am firmly of the view that any proposals for the regeneration of the town should involve broad public consultation—and indeed the Council, who are responsible as the planning authority, have already undertaken a large scale exercise, the results of which I understand will shortly be announced. It will then be for the Council to decide what further mechanisms to ascertain public opinion may be needed and cost and public demand would clearly be factors here

  While I am in favour of the broadest possible consultation on this issue, a simple yes or no in a referendum is not likely to provide it. The Council would have to consider carefully the detail and practicality of whatever questions might be posed. People's views are likely to be contingent on a whole range of issues ie what alternative proposals are firmly on the table, whether direct as well as indirect benefit can be assured from any proposals and so on. I do believe that it is vital that people are exposed to the full range of possibilities when being asked their views on these developments in whatever contexts, and I have argued as such right from the beginning of this debate.

  Thank you for writing to me.

3 May 2002

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