Positive progress towards Great Yarmouth large casino
- Credit: Archant © 2007
It has undoubtedly been a difficult journey with more highs and lows than the historic rollercoaster at his Great Yarmouth amusement park.
However, a distant five years since the euphoria of Norfolk's biggest resort being announced as the venue for one of the country's eight large casinos, Pleasure Beach boss Albert Jones believes he is at last close to delivering the dream.
Answering the growing number of doubters who believe the £25m beach-front scheme is destined to forever stay on the drawing board, he said he remained 'very positive'.
Two weeks after the opening of Britain's second large casino in Milton Keynes, Mr Jones said his company, Pleasure and Leisure Corporation, was now 'in an advanced stage of negotiations' with well-known brand restaurants to become tenants in The Edge – the striking leisure complex that will accompany the casino.
Talks were also gathering pace with a number of potential casino operators 'who have visited the resort and like what they have seen'.
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A deal with Odeon to deliver a multi-screen cinema had long been in place.
He said: 'We are working really hard behind the scenes and hope to be in a position to make important announcements in the not to distant future.'
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Key breakthroughs had been made in the month since the borough council had granted his request for extra breathing space by allowing him four years to apply for a licence from the Gambling Commission – a move interpreted by some as a signal that the project was in trouble.
Although the state of the economy scuppered his plans to start building work next to the Pleasure Beach this autumn, he is confident that it can be under way at the end of next summer.
He confessed if that were not the case, then it might be the time to look at other ways of regenerating the area to bring more year-round visitors to Yarmouth.
Mr Jones, who has so far staked close to £1m on the project, voiced his determination in response to a warning by the owner of Yarmouth's Palace Casino – presently the town's largest – that the whole concept of large casinos needed a fresh look.
Patrick Duffy spent £100,000 bidding against Mr Jones for the right to run the town's large casino but now feels the ambitious gaming centres are proving to be a busted flush rather than the 'money-spinning tool for regeneration' which had been the hope of the Labour government.
He pointed to the fact that in five years only two had come to fruition across the country.
The only reason he believes the expansion of his £10m premises in Church Plain into a large casino would have been a viable option is that it would have required just simple alterations to the existing building – and he was only promising to deliver other elements of a planned redevelopment of The Conge, including a major events arena, at a pace dictated by the economy.
While praising the commitment of Mr Jones and the council, he questioned the wisdom of giving the ambitious scheme four more years.
He said: 'There is a danger that the whole town is going to miss out on opportunities to move forward on the promise of something that is not going to happen.
'While the shadow of the large casino remains, who is going to come into Yarmouth and deliver the regeneration it needs? For example. who would build a multi-screen cinema somewhere else?
Borough council leader Trevor Wainwright believes it was right to give Mr Jones more time.
'Albert is the only game in town and he has assured us cranes will be on site next year.
'He is still talking very positively,' he said.