Gaming chain overturns council's refusal for outlet in former high street bank branch

The PAC has ruled Oasis Retail Services can open a gaming centre in a former First Trust bank branch in Newtownards.
The PAC has ruled Oasis Retail Services can open a gaming centre in a former First Trust bank branch in Newtownards.

A HIGH street gaming company has overturned a Co Down council’s decision to refuse it permission to turn a former town centre bank into a gambling establishment.

Ards and North Down Borough Council rejected the bid by Oasis Retail Services in October 2020.

The company, which has 14 outlets around the north, had sought planning permission to convert a former First Trust branch on Newtownards High Street into an adult gaming centre.

But the council claimed the gaming establishment would impact the vitality, viability and character of the town’s primary retail core.

In a letter to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) explaining its decision, the council’s planning manager cited the creation of a blank frontage to the street, claiming it would result in a break in the otherwise continuous retail frontage within the heart of the primary retail core.

Oasis Retail Services, which was set up in 1968 by Gerald Steinberg, subsequently took its case to the PAC.

After hearing the case last year, a PAC determination published at the end of December ruled in favour of Oasis.

Referencing photos of the premises when it was occupied by First Trust, Commissioner Denise McShane concluded there would be little difference in the appearance of the unit, whether used as a bank or as an amusement arcade and gaming centre.

On the question of whether the gaming centre would impact neighbouring properties and amenities, the commissioner said: “There is no persuasive evidence to indicate that there is anything specific to the appeal proposal, which would result in a general nuisance or disturbance at this town centre location that would have an unacceptable detrimental impact upon amenity.”

Granting the appeal, the commissioner added a condition that requires Oasis Retail Services to include a display in the front windows of the High Street premises at all times.

The PAC case follows a challenging period for the gaming chain.

Alongside running its own chain of outlets, Oasis supplies betting machines to pubs, clubs and bookies around the north.

But its latest accounts show the company’s income collapsed in 2020 amid the restrictions on non-essential retail and hospitality.

From a turnover of £11 million for the 15 months ending March 31 2020, Oasis Retail Services reported just £3.8m in turnover for the nine months ending December 31 2020.

The £3.8m includes a £1m VAT refund from HMRC.

It followed a case taken against HMRC by bingo hall and casino operator Rank Group concerning the amount of VAT paid on slot machine income over an eight-year period.

The ruling triggered millions of pounds in VAT refunds to gaming and betting companies.

The accounts, published by Companies House, also show Oasis Retail Services separately received £1.24m in government support over the nine-month period.

The company had employed 133 people at the end of 2020.