Memorandum submitted by Blackpool First Alliance
According to the local press, a delegation from
Blackpool Borough Council will be giving oral evidence to your
Committee on 11 June 2002. On the past record of those included
in the delegation they will not make it known to your Committee
that there is considerable opposition in Blackpool to the proposals
for so-called "resort casinos". Indeed in a survey conducted
by the local newspaper in April 2002 opinion was equally divided
between those against the proposals and those in favour.
The vote of a majority of Blackpool councillors
in favour of progressing the proposals does not, therefore, represent
a true reflection of the wishes of the residents and businesses.
Widespread calls for a referendum on the issue have been unsuccessful
in the face of unexplained resistance from what is known locally
as the "cosy club". This despite the proposals being
described by the Chair of the committee charged with preparing
a report on resort casinos for the Council as "the most important
issue for the town for over 100 years". Too important to
let ALL the residents and businesses have their say in a referendum
no doubt. But that would be democracy at work and it is notable
by its absence in the town these days.
These proposals have been hyped up over the
last two years, with the use of large tranches of SRB2 funds and
other public money, by the Blackpool Challenge Partnership Ltd,
an allegedly independent body concerned with the regeneration
of Blackpool. The Chairman of the Challenge Partnership is the
Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive of the Borough Council
is on the board of directors (the present Chief Executive was
only very recently appointed to the post we hasten to add) and
the Manager of the company is Mr Alan Cavill, who is the Head
of the Economic Development Unit of the Council.
Mr Marc Etches, Managing Director of Leisure
Parcs Ltd, is on the board of directors of the Blackpool Challenge
Partnership. His company is the one proposing resort casinos for
Blackpool. Also on the board of directors is Mr David Cam, the
Company Secretary of Blackpool Pleasure Beach Company. His company
has said publicly that, if resort casinos are approved for Blackpool,
they will apply for a gaming licence on the Pleasure Beach. The
remaining directors of the Blackpool Challenge Partnership are
all appointees of the Council.
Certain of these appointees to the board of
the Challenge Partnership, ostensibly representative of local
organisations, have expressed support for the proposals publicly.
They have done so without taking a vote of their members and without
proper authority for so doing. The opinions they express are,
therefore, their personal views only and should not be considered
to be the views of their members.
Mr Peter Moore, who has been appointed as a
consultant to advise on a "Master plan" for Blackpool,
was the Managing Director of Centre Parcs plc at a time when Mr
Marc Etches was the Manager of the Nottingham complex. Mr Trevor
Hemmings, whose family trust owns Leisure Parcs Ltd, was connected
to Centre Parcs by a major shareholding, and possibly a directorship,
in S&N Breweries, which owned the complex. Mr Moore's fees
are paid by the Blackpool Challenge Partnership.
It is not surprising, you might think, that
the "independence" and objectivity of the Blackpool
Challenge Partnership Ltd and of Mr Moore is seriously called
The word "hype" is chosen deliberately.
Blackpool Challenge Partnership, Blackpool Borough Council and
Leisure Parcs admit that all that exists at the moment is an artist's
impression of "Pharaoh's Palace" ( a supposed representation
of a "resort casino"), a "cardboard" model
( a description applied by Mr Cavill, on the record, to the model)
and a "red line" outline planning application, submitted
by Leisure Parcs in October 2001, only a few short weeks after
another consortium took an interest in the council owned site
proposed for "Pharaoh's Palace".That application is
qualified by a note which makes clear that the artist's impression,
the model and, indeed, the suggested component parts of the proposed
complex (referred to in a press release that accompanied the application)
do not form part of the application.
It depends whether you believe Leisure Parcs'
submission to the Budd Committee which refers to "up to five
or six resort casinos" or you talk to the "master plan
guru" Mr Moore, who envisages "possibly three or four
resort casinos", on how you assess how much land would be
required along the prime section of Blackpool Promenade to accommodate
these proposals. No one in the "cosy club" has done
the exercise or, if they have, they have not made the findings
public. The site earmarked for "Pharaoh's Palace" is
approximately 14 acres along and to the rear of the Golden Mile.
So anything from 42 acres (three resort casinos) to 84 acres (six
resort casinos) may be taken up by these proposals. Who knows
or is saying?
The Alliance has done its own rough survey and
multiplying the 14 acre site by six or even by only three would
devastate hundreds of hotels, boarding houses and small businesses.
The cost of compulsorily purchasing these properties and businesses
would make the proposal totally unviable yet no one has even ventured
a ballpark figure to date. Questions on the total area of land
involved and/or the cost of acquisition are met with the statement
that Leisure Parcs are proposing only one resort casino.
Yet the whole premise of resort casinos as a
suggested engine for regeneration of Blackpool is based on the
"vision" of five or six such complexes. The words "pie
in the sky" spring to mind.
The artist's impression and the model have received
extensive media coverage which says more for the efforts of public
relations consultants and lobbyists than their contribution to
the debate. What do not exist, even at this late stage, are any
viability studies, financial appraisals, detailed plans and drawings,
environmental impact studies, traffic impact studies, parking
requirement appraisals, socio-economic impact studies or a town-wide
referendum on whether or not Blackpool residents and businesses
want resort casinos.
One of the matters with which we are concerned
is the probable impact on Blackpool of the recommendations of
the Budd Committee on gambling. Whilst our members are not against
gambling in principle, or against casinos in particular, the Alliance
is, with other organisations locally, opposed to proposals to
build up to six massive "resort casinos" in Blackpool.
The experience in other countries where mega
casinos exist is that they devastate the small businesses in surrounding
areas. The ex Mayor of Atlantic City and his wife came to Blackpool
as an apparently unbiased messenger. It is not public knowledge
that his trip was paid for by Leisure Parcs. Only on an enquiry
as to his present occupation did he reveal that he was part of
a consortium building the thirteenth resort casino in the city.
More significantly, although he had been Mayor
for ten years, he was uncertain as to how many of the 1,000 family-owned
hotels and boarding houses were left after the appearance of the
present twelve resort casinos. Asked whether it was 750, or 250
or 100 he conceded it could be " less than 100". There
are 59 hotels other than resort casino hotels, 23 of the 59 are
national franchises such as Holiday Inn and Days Inn. That leaves
only 36 family-owned hotels and boarding houses out of over 1,000
which existed previously. Blackpool has over 3,500 boarding establishments.
Atlantic City has been held out by "the
cosy club" as a model for Blackpool to follow. You will not
be surprised to learn that the majority of our hoteliers are less
Resort casinos also lead to a significant increase
in gambling and drug addiction, crime, prostitution, social deprivation
and the break up of families. The problems are mainly caused by
the concentration of thousands of unlimited payout "slot"
machines in each of these mega casinos. That is what distinguishes
them from the present UK casinos, which currently are permitted
no more than 10 such machines.
I assume that you already have available to
the Committee the statistics on these well documented consequences
of the casino complexes. The growth industry in America and Australia
in the cities with these resort casinos is, apparently, the "Cash
for Gold" shops or pawnbrokers, as we know them.
Because degeneration and not regeneration follows
in the wake of resort casinos Blackpool people and particular
churchgoers were surprised that, after a trip to the US, the Rt
Rev Alan Chesters, Bishop of Blackburn, in whose Diocese Blackpool
falls came out in favour of resort casinos "as the lesser
of two evils". The other "evil" being the manifestations
mentioned above of which Blackpool already has more than its fair
share. He has declined to date to say who paid for his trip, though
it is perhaps not coincidence that he was accompanied by the Reverend
Graham Rainford of St Christopher's church in Blackpool, who is
Honorary Chaplain to the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The enclosed
cutting from last Thursday's local newspaper shows the close association
of the unholy triumvirate, Blackpool Pleasure Beach Company, the
Blackpool Challenge Partnership and the Bishop. Though this clearly
has no bearing on the views of resort casinos expressed by his
There is also, obviously, no significance in
the decision of the council's committee, against the objection
of the residents, (detailed in the enclosed article in last Saturday's
edition of the local newspaper) relating to St Christopher's parish
centre. The largest individual benefactor to the church's building
funds has generally been Mrs Thompson of Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Another surprising, and well publicised intervention,
was by Lord Wade of Chorlton, who expressed views in the House
in favour of the proposals for resort casinos in Blackpool. Most
of us were puzzled as to his interest in the subject. To say he
is unknown in Blackpool would be to afford him with too great
a measure of public recognition locally. The devil is in the small
print. Apart from his many and varied interests in the racing
fraternity, of which Mr Trevor Hemmings is a well known member,
Lord Wade's paid positions include being Chairman of the Pontins
Pension Fund. Pontins is a company in the Hemmings stable. Though
that obviously had no bearing on the intervention by the good
You may, by now, be getting the impression that
the interests of the residents and businesses of Blackpool are
being subverted to the interests of one or two large concerns.
That the case for "resort casinos" is so much "smoke
and mirrors" and does not stand up to even the most cursory
examination. Unfortunately, because the local Council conducted
so called "consultations" recently under the aegis of
a council committee, only councillors on that committee were permitted
to question Mr Etches and Mr Cam. The questions put to them were
anodyne in the extreme. Residents and business people present
were, under standing orders, prevented from asking pertinent questions
which, therefore, remain unanswered.
Blackpool residents and businesses have not
been asked if they wish to be a "pilot area" for resort
casinos. Because none of the absolutely essential studies and
appraisals etc mentioned above have been carried out and/or made
public it is impossible for these residents and businesses, and
with the greatest respect your own Committee, to take an informed
view on this particular aspect of gambling expansion. Any oral
"evidence" given by the unrepresentative Blackpool delegation
to your Committee is clearly premature.
It is, perhaps, not without significance that
no other city or seaside resort has suggested that there should
be a "pilot area" let alone that its residents and businesses
should be the guinea pigs. Many cities and seaside resorts are
desperate for regeneration, most of them being in a far more desperate
state than Blackpool, which still boasts 11,000,000 visitors annually
despite its decline in popularity. If resort casinos are such
a sure fired engine of regeneration these other cities and seaside
resorts would surely be queuing up to give evidence to your Committee.
They would all be pleading with the Government to be made the
"pilot area". May we suggest that the obvious reason
why they are not is that it would be a giant leap into the unknown
for them? An enormous gamble that they, unlike "the cosy
club" are not prepared to contemplate.
Why would "the cosy club" be prepared
to take such a gamble? Who knows? We can only hazard a guess.
Mr Etches, as spokesman for Leisure Parcs, has been at pains to
emphasise verbally that his company's proposal is for one resort
casino only. This despite the frequent reference in the Company's
submissions and press releases to the "up to five or six
resort casinos" which would be the engine for regeneration
and which would generate "up to 25,000 jobs". His prophecy
for "Pharaoh's Palace" is only 2,500 jobs so someone
needs to go back to the abacus.
"Pharaoh's Palace", it is proposed,
would occupy the council owned old Central station site, presently
an open-air car park. These 14 acres compromise, without doubt,
the most valuable leisure and retail development site in the town,
being immediately behind the Golden Mile and in the shadow of
Blackpool Tower. The outline application does not include any
details of the proposed components of the proposal, though a conference
centre is mentioned in the sheet accompanying the application
"which does not form part of this application". When
asked at an informal meeting whether a conference centre would
be in phase one of any proposed complex, Mr Etches replied that
it would not but would have to await the profitability or otherwise
of the casino. The words "pig in a poke" spring to mind.
And so the possible scenario unfolds that, having
disposed of the Crown Jewels, Blackpool discovers belatedly that
a conference centre "would be unviable" the additional
resort casinos, who are to be the engine of regeneration, "due
to prevailing market forces", do not materialise and the
shareholders of one or two extremely private companies are doing
very well thank you. Or are we just being far too cynical?
The Council is also, apparently lobbying for
a local "casino tax" as occurs in the USA. You will
be aware better than we do that it is probably a non-starter.
Given that the site in question is council-owned the answer is
fairly straightforward. The land should not be sold but a long
development lease granted at a rent to include a "turnover
rent" on the businesses, particularly any casino, included
in the complex. On gross turnover of course and at the same rate
as any proposed "casino tax". No legislation is required
for this but for some reason such a solution has not been included
in the public debate.
Several existing hotels etc in the Blackpool
area have intimidated that, if the restrictions were relaxed,
they would apply for casino licences. They would take their chances
in the marketplace against the two casinos already established
in Blackpool. But their ambitions would not displace or destroy
existing hotels, shops and catering businesses. The size of their
casinos would be limited. None of them would have the space available
for the gambling "sheds" associated with resort casinos.
Blackpool, despite some media comment to the
contrary, is still Europe's most popular resort based on our annual
visitor figures. However, we do recognise that we must not rest
on our laurels and that some regeneration is vital. Resort casinos
are not the answer. What are required are new all year round family
orientated leisure entertainments not activities in which, by
law, only adults can participate.
The resort casino lobby are promulgating the
myth that only their proposals can provide the necessary impetus
to protect Blackpool's future well being. That there are no alternatives
on the table. That is only the case because neither the Council
nor the Challenge Partnership has made any effort to seek alternatives.
The Council-owned site mentioned above has not
been marketed but has been "put on hold" for the last
four years. In 1998 Leisure Parcs asked for 12 months to carry
out financial appraisals and viability studies for a stand-alone
conference centre on the site. Two favourable viability studies
for such a centre were said in Challenge Partnership's successful
bid for £20,000,000 SRB6 funds to be the "cornerstone"
of the bid. These favourable viability studies have never been
made public, the reason advanced by the Challenge Partnership
being that they were paid for by Leisure Parcs. Yet they formed
a main plank of the grant by the Government of these regeneration
funds. Resort casinos were not mentioned in the SRB6 submission
yet there is a suggestion that up to £4,000,000 may be allocated
out of these funds for that purpose. To underpin a private company's
"vision" cannot be the purpose for which the Government
allocated this regeneration money.
The Blackpool First Alliance was set up in 2000
to promote and protect the welfare and prosperity of Blackpool's
residents and businesses and to foster openness and democracy
in the affairs of Blackpool. We are non-party political and our
members and supporters are drawn from a very wide spectrum of
the Blackpool community.
We are delighted that your Committee is examining
the gambling reform proposals. Your deliberations are certain
to be more searching than those carried out by those who purport
to represent us, elected and non-elected alike. If the Alliance
can be of further assistance then perhaps you would have your
secretariat contact the writer.
16 May 2002