A Westminster Council planning committee has refused permission for a new adult gaming centre (AGC) on Oxford Street because the business would undermine the street as a globally recognised shopping district.
Luxury Leisure wanted to turn the 305 square metre ground floor of Century House at 100-102 Oxford Street — currently in use as gift, toy and luggage shop — into a casino. It would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have 200 slot machines.
The proposal required a change of use from a retail unit (Class E) to an Adult Gaming Centre (Sui Generis) and alterations to the shopfront.
The application was submitted in July last year and was recommended for approval by planning officers despite fears that the casino would attract crime.
The Metropolitan Police objected to the gaming centre because it would open the door to thieves laundering money using stolen bank cards in the slot machines’ contactless feature and its 90 percent win rate.
“They also note that the area has a notable number of reports of antisocial behaviour incidents reported to the police, reflected in crime statistics. Cumulatively, given this situation this can pose challenges to staff in dealing with challenging customer behaviour that may arise,” stated the planning officers’ report.
Objections were also received from local residents, West End ward Cllr Jessica Toale, and the Fitzrovia West Neighbourhood Forum.
“There are a large number of visitors to Oxford Street and in particular young people who visit nearby shops. There is a heightened risk that they will be attracted to this premise,” wrote the neighbourhood forum.
“There is a strong link between crime and gambling establishments. The West End already has one of the highest crime rates in Westminster. The proposal is also for a 24-hour establishment, in an area where there are few others,” they said.
Westminster Council’s own research deemed Oxford Street a vulnerable area for gambling but said the moral issue or regulating it was ultimately for government to consider.
“Planning decisions have to be determined in accordance with the development plan. There are no such policies which restrict uses which involve gambling, therefore it is not considered reasonable to refuse permission on this basis,” stated the planning officers’ report.
Planning officers said there are a number of clubs in the area with a licence to open late, including the 100 Club which is in the basement of the application site. The area is predominantly commercial in character, although there are some residential properties on the upper floors on the other side of the street.
“[T]here is no evidence of any link between AGCs and crime nor is it considered that there is a greater risk from the proposed use, given the proposed presence of CCTV, than any other type of leisure premises. Should any evidence of money laundering become apparent, the Gambling Commission has the authority to revoke licenses,” stated officers in their recommendation to approve the application.
Tom Allison, Chief Executive of Luxury Leisure T/A Admiral, said: “We welcome dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Metropolitan police. We have stringent measures in place at all of our venues, including those in London, to address any risks such as those concerns raised and have agreed to relevant planning conditions. We look forward to being able to trade in this area of London, to add to the leisure mix of Oxford Street and to our venues in Greater London.”
At a planning committee on Tuesday 7 February councillors Nafsika Butler-Thalassis (Chair), Cara Sanquest, Ryan Jude, and Amanda Langford noted the comments of the police, and expressed concern that a gambling premises might put off high quality retailers from being attracted to the street.
Planning officers advised the committee that the applicant would also need to seek a gambling licence in addition to securing the planning permission.
In their discussion the committee said the proposed activity would conflict with council’s plans to revitalise Oxford Street.
Councillors unanimously rejected the application because it would have a negative impact on the character and function of the area.
Planning Applications Sub-Committee (3) – Tuesday 7th February, 2023 6.30 pm: Century House, 100-102 Oxford Street, London, W1D 1LL.
Additional reporting by Linus Rees.