Casino firm loses appeal bid to extend opening hours despite hired Met cop's 'covert observations'

Merkur Slots on Stockton High Street
Merkur Slots on Stockton High Street -Credit:Gareth Lightfoot

A casino company lost an appeal over its bid to open an amusement arcade 21 hours a day, with an inspector saying it would cause "unreasonable and excessive" noise.

Merkur Slots applied for permission from Stockton Council for its adult gaming centre on Stockton High Street to stay open until 6am. It is currently open from 9am to midnight.

The company brought in a licensing and security company headed by a former Metropolitan Police officer to make "covert observations" of the venue and show it would not cause trouble. However the council refused the application, saying extended hours would generate noise, affecting people living nearby and the area's character.

The firm appealed against the council's decision, asserting the council showed no evidence to back up its rejection and any disturbance would be "minimal". But a government-appointed inspector dismissed the appeal.

The inspector's report said noise and disturbance such as comings and goings, conversations and cars would be difficult to control and would likely be audible with people living above and nearby, "particularly in the summer months when residents may choose to open their windows". It added: "The later opening hours would result in comings and goings throughout the night and early morning and at times when ambient noise levels are low enough to enable sleep.

"The sudden and intermittent types of noise associated with the use would be unreasonable and excessive in the early hours of the morning in such a setting where residents would expect it to be much quieter."

Merkur Slots said late-night customers were mainly late-shift workers looking to relax. The inspector accepted the number of customers would reduce at night, but it could not be assumed that customers would be alone, in couples or not in groups. "It also cannot be assumed that customers would not gather around outside of the premises before or after entering or leave quickly and quietly," said the report.

'Comings and goings'

The inspector added parking, drop-offs and pick-ups "would cause disturbance and would be difficult to manage or control. The premises does not sell or serve alcohol and Cleveland Police did not have any comment to make. Nevertheless, the extended opening times would still result in comings and goings at an unsociable time... It would result in an adverse impact in terms of both noise and overall character of the area."

The company said no residents had objected or complained of noise or nuisance, but the inspector said this "does not mean that there would be no harm caused". The inspector also considered Merkur Slots' own noise assessment, saying it did not give an accurate reflection of potential noise disturbance in the early hours.

The report continued: "The findings do not convince me that the revised opening times would not have an adverse impact on the living conditions of existing occupiers nearby... I do not dispute the contents and findings of the observation report and that the premises is a well-run establishment/operates correctly in line with their company brochure. However, this is only a snapshot of time which can vary significantly throughout the year."

Even with strict policies like vetting, dispersal measures and turning away drunken customers, the inspector said the extended hours would still cause noise disturbance to residents, and those measures could create noise in themselves. "I conclude that the proposal would harm the living conditions of occupiers of nearby properties in relation to noise and disturbance and would therefore have an unacceptable impact upon the character of the surrounding area."