‘We don’t want to turn William Street into a Portrush in the Bogside’

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Derry & Strabane councillors have refused to allow a gaming business in the city centre to move into another premises on the same street.

The Council’s Planning Committee went against a recommendation from planners to approve the change of use of a retail unit at 33, William Street for gaming machines.

The applicant's current premises on William Street.

The applicant's current premises on William Street.

The application from Derry Amusement and Gaming Ltd proposed the existing 120m sq vacant retail unit be opened with gaming machines.

Planners had said the applicant was transferring his existing gaming license from his premises at 15 William Street to 33 William Street, and the proposed opening hours would be from 9am to 12 midnight.

In relation to objections previously raised by the Committee to the plans, a planning officer said that upon reconsideration, officials did not consider that the development would unacceptably affect the amenities of nearby residents to a significant degree.

With regards to the proximity to a chapel of rest at the end of the block, the Planning officer said there are two vacant units between the premises, which officials consider would serve as a sufficient buffer.

A planners’ report stated: “It is located in a city centre location amongst similar sui generis uses including other gaming arcades, bookmakers, bars, restaurants and hot food take away.”

Speaking at the council meeting, Declan McLaughlin, a residential care worker at the House of the Wells harm reduction unit for men dealing with addiction related issues, objected to the plans.

Mr McLaughlin, who also worked at Divert, said: “I have seen the devastation addiction does to the individual, family, and the community they come from. Gambling is no less dangerous than any of these other addictions.”

He said that this arcade would be on the main gateway to the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan areas. “Most people doing their shopping come through that area,” he said.

“If you allow the ongoing normalisation of gambling to go on in this city we give young people a false idea that gambling is a way to improve their lot. It’s not.”

He also said that the proposed arcade was close to community centres, youth clubs, and religious facilities.

Sinn Fein Colr Ruari McHugh asked if the objector was aware that this application was for a change of premises, “50 yards down the road” from its current premises.

Clarification was given at the meeting that if the business did move, the current gaming premises would still retain its planning permission for use as a betting facility.

An agent, speaking on behalf of the applicant, said that of the block where the facility would be located, six of the seven units would still be retail units. “We will not be creating a cluster,” he said. He added that of the 29 premises along William Street, 17 were used for retail, and the facility would bring more footfall to the area.

A large proportion of the objections received, he said, were not based on planning policy.

A chapel of rest being contained within a business premises on the same street would not be affected as there were two vacant units between them, he also asserted.

SDLP Colr. John Boyle said that there was “already an over-proliferation” of such establishments in this area. “Given what has been said, we could have not one, but two of these on the back of this application,” he said. “I’m very concerned about the creep on non-retail use.

“We don’t want to turn William Street into Portrush in the Bogside,” Colr. Boyle added later.

The Planning Authority had delivered an unaltered opinion to approve the site subject to conditions including that an acoustic report being submitted to and agreed in writing with the Council in consultation with its Environmental Health Department, and that a lobbied compartment with self-closing devices be provided within the unit at the entrance to the premises.

Sinn Fein Colr Patricia Logue, however, proposed that the Committee go against the planners’ recommendation to approve “given the character of this very important street in our city.”

SDLP Colr. John Boyle seconded her proposal, with a total of 12 Councillors on the Planning Committee voting to refuse planning permission.

Sinn Fein councillor Ruari McHugh voted against this, while Sinn Fein councillor Kieran McGuire abstained.