A plan to open a casino near a homeless shelter in North London has been thrown out as furious residents say it exploits the poor.
It would have been the third such site within 200 metres of each other, leaving many to feel the area is being targeted by gambling companies due its high levels of deprivation.
Silvertime Amusements Ltd had applied to turn the derelict and vandalised betting office on Park Parade in Harlesden into another casino. However, Brent Council’s planning committee rejected the plan at last night’s meeting (October 18) as there would be “an over-concentration” of adult gaming centres, pawn shops and payday loan stores in the town.
Resident Will Newton told the committee that, since the pandemic, the community has taken a keen interest in the types of shops on the high street.
He said: “Harlesden is deeply deprived and the last thing the area needs, with its incumbent mental health issues, is another adult gaming centre. Especially since there are already several within a short walk of the proposed site.”
Two similar applications by the company have previously been refused by the council on the basis there was already the maximum number of that type of venue locally that their policies would allow.
However, the recent closure of a nearby pawnbroker meant the 3 per cent threshold had no longer been exceeded.
Mr Newton said: “These premises generally appeal to the most vulnerable citizens in our area, it is a cynical business model aimed at exploiting the most vulnerable. As residents, we are largely convinced that the area is being targeted by this company because of the high levels of deprivation in proximity to the site.”
Another resident, Anita Whittaker, called the location of the proposal a “significant concern” as there are already two Silvertime gaming centres in close proximity, as well as Turning Point – a space opened by Brent Council for people struggling with homelessness to walk in and get support.
She said: “Harlesden remains an area with a high concentration of poverty. […] You’re putting people who are in survival mode in the heart of where there is [somewhere to gamble]. I recognise how tempting something like that directly across the road is when you are desperate and there’s no other option.”
Silvertime Amusements Ltd could not be reached for a comment. Their application claimed that the premises would “broaden the evening economy”, whilst having “no adverse impact on retailing activity” or harming the character of the shopping centre.
Park Parade is already a hotspot for antisocial behaviour and Harlesden’s local policing team have previously opposed the plans. Three councillors from Harlesden and Kensal Green, Cllr Jumbo Chan, Cllr Matt Kelcher and Cllr Mili Patel are also opposed, and even organised a demonstration against the proposal in July.
Cllr Patel told the committee that the harm the plan would bring to the borough “massively outweighs the benefit”. She explained that, out of the 148 district centres in London, Harlesden has the “second highest amount of betting office or casino floor space” at 1,700 sqm.
She added: “Adult gaming centres prey on the vulnerable by offering multiple gambling opportunities to people with only a few coins in their pockets. [The plan] goes against Brent’s policy to stop the over-concentration of gambling dens”.
Cllr Chan referenced the Brent Poverty Commission, which stated that “a quarter of people living in Harlesden live below the poverty line” and pointed to Park Parade as the most challenging area in the town. Cllr Chan said: “Most of the problem is antisocial behaviour and we get countless communications about it.”
Planning officers had recommended the scheme be approved but the committee wernt against their suggestion. Cllr Kelcher told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “We are delighted that the Planning Committee listened to the local community and rejected these plans which would have led to an over concentration of high street casinos in Harlesden and undermined the huge progress our local police have made in tackling antisocial behaviour in the area.”
He added: “The decision sends a clear message that Harlesden can have a bright future and attract new independent cafés and shops to our high streets, rather gambling establishments which prey on some of the most vulnerable in our society. We hope the landlords will now seek new local tenants for the site who will contribute to this vision.”