Coral have applied to open a new betting shop in the former Barclay's bank building on the corner of New Cross Road (number 197), opposite the White Hart.
The building has been empty since September 2013 when the bank closed, and has been occupied by squatters at least twice. The dental surgery on the first floor - who own the freehold and would be leasing the ground floor to Coral - will continue to operate.
At a public meeting held at New Cross Learning last night, representatives from Coral explained that they planned to close the current branch slightly further down New Cross Road and open this new branch in order to provide a more modern and comfortable environment for their customers, and one that was more suited to modern betting techniques (such as fixed odds betting terminals - FOBTs).
The issue of betting shops in the area has been a hot topic, with claims that Deptford High Street's 10+ stores were starting to suffocate the community feel of the street and was leading to increased crime, antisocial behaviour and a desire for local people to avoid the area. As well as the current Coral branch in New Cross, there is a William Hill branch around two minutes' walk away.
The council and planning representatives present reported that they had received no letters of support but over 600 objections to the plans, and were aware of the level of local opposition to a large new gambling facility opening in a landmark site in a relatively poor area.
Discussions at the meeting consisted of:
- remarks that the council had failed to notify very many locals, even those within sight-line of the new shop, and that planning notices had been displayed late and for a very short time period: the planning officer confirmed that the timescale to object was extended, but it was generally felt that few people were aware of the proposal and would be shocked to see Coral taking over the building,
- whether it was appropriate to add blue plastic fascias and large format window posters to the front of a Victorian heritage (albeit not listed) building in a conservation district, and in particular one that many people driving into London from two directions would see,
- whether it was an appropriate use of such a key building on the high street and whether the council could have provided support to find a more suitable tenant to serve the local community; Coral and the council suggested that no other parties had shown interest in the property, and suggested it was not their responsibility to seek out occupants for vacant properties but simply to deal with received applications,
- whether the antisocial activity that had apparently plagued the area around the current branch - such as loitering, street drinking and public urination - would simply transfer to the vicinity of the new branch, in particular the large open space in front of the Post Office - and whether the branch would be suitably staffed to monitor and intervene in such activity,
- whether opening a large, visible and more 'attractive' store would simply encourage more people, particularly from local vulnerable groups - some of which are houses nearer the proposed new branch - to partake in gambling, which is known to be a highly addictive and expensive habit. The building is also close to several schools.
The Coral representatives continually asserted that anyone causing anti-social issues 'would not be their customer' and that their staff are properly trained to identify signs of gambling addiction and intervene as appropriate.
They suggested that the current store, which has been run by the company since 1984, was now inappropriate for modern gambling requirements and that this new location was the first to become available 'in 15 years' that was appropriate for their new store format.
They denied that moving to a larger, more visible location was purely about increasing footfall and therefore profit, but simply to provide better facilities for their existing clientele and the local community.
The store due to close still has an 11-year lease held by Coral and a standing gambling license; although Coral confirmed that the branch would close if the new one was approved, it was not clear if they would be interested in leasing the store to another organisation who could make use of the gambling license, or if the Coral branch would close in the event that permission for the new one was not granted because it was deemed unsuitable.
The Coral representatives suggested they could not be precise about the fate of the current store in that scenario because they had no idea what developments would take place in the coming three years in the gambling world. Surprising for a company that makes its money by predicting the most likely outcome.
The issue will now be voted upon at a planning meeting.
A petition has been launched objecting to the proposal.