Lady Luck smiles at long last on Yarmouth

STEPHEN PULLINGER The announcement on casinos has set the roulette wheel spinning for investors clamouring to place their chips on Yarmouth's future. A resort too long dogged by bad economic news and a drab image is now experiencing a tangible feelgood factor, with the casino award coming on top of positive news about the outer harbour and a multi-million pound regeneration scheme putting the smiles back on the seafront.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

For years it seemed there were just hopes and promises. Now, with construction work on the outer harbour poised to start and a multi-million pound casino development in the offing, tangible signs of Yarmouth's economic renaissance are emerging. STEPHEN PULLINGER reports.

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The announcement on casinos has set the roulette wheel spinning for investors clamouring to place their chips on Yarmouth's future.

A resort too long dogged by bad economic news and a drab image is now experiencing a tangible feelgood factor, with the casino award coming on top of positive news about the outer harbour and a multi-million pound regeneration scheme putting the smiles back on the seafront.

Yarmouth people have become cynical about vague promises of future rewards, but now the vision of a casino, outer harbour with continental ferry link and even a third river crossing are all on the horizon.

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An extra 10,000 high-spending visitors a week homing in on the casino and up to 400,000 ferry passengers coming through the port every year will provide an economic boost for the whole region, not just Yarmouth.

And the positive link between the casino and the outer harbour has not escaped the notice of Peter Hardy, chief executive of EastPort, the company steering the £45m project.

He said the prospect of attracting a ferry operator to provide a link to Ijmuiden, in Holland, had now been boosted with the casino and ferry schemes “mutually reinforcing”.

The rise in Yarmouth's economic stock had already led to around half a dozen companies and consortiums proposing multi-million pound developments around a casino ahead of yesterday's announcement that the resort had actually received the licence.

And news that it will be the only large casino on the east coast south of Hull is expected to trigger a rush of further proposals.

I understand it will take the borough council at least until the end of the year to go through the processes of licensing applicants and choosing a site and operator.

The Tory-controlled cabinet will then take the final decision, guided by advice from a casino advisory panel comprising a cross-section of the community and a report commissioned by the East of England Development Agency analysing the advantages of each potential site.

The consultants' report is being made because the council owns one of the contender sites for the casino and is keen to show an even-handed approach.

Council deputy chief executive Mark Barrow said: “Planning processes could take the best part of a year, up to the end of 2008, so with construction it seems unlikely a casino could be operating before the end of 2009.”

At the start of the long race, two sites have emerged as clear front-runners.

A consortium wanting to develop a South Denes site owned by the Pleasure Beach looks likely to face fierce competition from one of at least half a dozen contenders aiming to develop a borough council-owned stretch of the Golden Mile.

Albert Jones, managing director of the Pleasure Beach, described the casino announcement as brilliant news and said he hoped the fact his scheme already had outline planning permission and funding in place would be to his advantage.

Mr Jones, who announced in the EDP last week that he had teamed up with development company Henry Boot and the oldest name in gambling, the Aspinall Group, said: “Our scheme can help to wipe out the borough's high unemployment and revitalise the whole area.”

He said the casino and quality, branded hotel proposed in their scheme would create 1,000 jobs on their own. The development would also include a seven to 10-screen cinema complex, a 22-lane bowling alley and seven or eight restaurants.

Mr Jones said it would be a tremendous boost for the Pleasure Beach, extending the season and enabling him to provide more all-year-round employment.

Henry Boot spokeswoman Karen Hawes said it was vital that the council moved quickly with the licensing and planning procedures.

She said: “If we are fortunate enough to be one of the first large casinos operating in the country, it will double our potential for visitor numbers.”

Damian Aspinall, son of the late gambler and zoo owner John Aspinall, who has formed a joint venture, Aspers, with James Packer, son of publishing tycoon Kerry, said they were immensely proud to have been chosen as preferred casino operator for the Pleasure Beach scheme.

He said: “Our proposed development in Yarmouth would bring about the long-term regeneration of the whole

of the seafront and will help bring British tourism back to the English seaside.

“The people of Yarmouth would have an iconic development - a year-round destination.”

Having been knocked back in his bid for a supercasino in Cardiff, he said he would now be simultaneously challenging for the licence in Manchester.

Details of the various schemes for the Golden Mile strip will emerge

in the ensuing weeks as the cabinet considers a new planning brief for the site.

It has been disclosed that some of the proposals are on the ambitious scale of £50m with elements such as theatres, water parks and conference centres as well as a casino.

It seems clear that the financial value of some of the Golden Mile schemes is likely to exceed that of the Pleasure Beach proposal, and it will be up

to Mr Jones to demonstrate the advantages of his site, a likely trump card being the proximity to the outer harbour.