Arcade expansion? Not allowed if you’re Gold Rush, it seems…

About ten years ago, the Gold Rush opened its doors for the first time on the site of the former Holkham Hotel. Having laid derelict for decades, the owners gave the site a complete facelift, opened the doors and put out a new working arcade. It expanded deeper out to the back of the site, had new signs, employed extra staff and everything was good.

Meanwhile, next door to it, there was an attraction called “Yesterday’s World”, which would sometimes open with a few kiddy rides and a cafe and a play area. Sometimes it wouldn’t open. And then it was shut, people lost their jobs, and nobody went in it. And, like the Holkham, the Empire, and the Garibaldi to name but three, it sat there doing precisely nothing. The owners decided to sell up, and put the place to auction. It didn’t sell. Although not in their original plans, Gold Rush bought part of the building and expanded into it, with the opportunity to replace some of the attractions lost since the closing of Yesterday’s World. Suddenly, some of the other business decided they didn’t like the fact this might mean losing market share, and filed an objection to the expansion. This got reported in the Mercury today in what can only be described as a ridiculously biased article. It only lists a small fraction of the story, so we thought we’d fill in some of the gaps.

Firstly, prior to Yesterday’s World, the site is correctly pointed out in the comments as an amusement arcade – Barrons. So rather than just increasing the amount of arcades in Yarmouth above the levels, Gold Rush are instead restoring the site to its former use. I’m pretty sure that the spirit of the 2001 rules was to prevent the entire seafront becoming arcades so that there was sufficient provision for alternative activities, not for arcades to disappear and then because the site had a primary alternative use never being allowed to become an arcade again. It should also be noted that within Yesterday’s World were a small number of cranes and pushers – just the sort of things you’d find in an arcade.

The article quotes TR9, the council strategy, of which I’ll abbreviate here:

The policy states that planning permission for new amusement arcades, whether involving change of use, or extension will only be permitted in the following areas:

B) In prime commercial holiday complexes/areas where only changes of use within existing premises will be permitted provided there is no net increase in the total amount of floorspace or frontage used for amusement arcade purposes.

There is no net increase. If you apply that in the way the objectors intend to, then as soon as any applicable site ceases to be an amusement arcade, it can never be restored to an arcade as it would constitute a net increase. Yet we’ve established that this Barron’s was around in 2001 when this strategy was adopted, so by changing the use to an arcade at most the total amount of floorspace is equal to what it was when the regulation was drafted. That doesn’t sound like a net increase to me.

Secondly, look at the list of names who object. It might sound like that’s a lot of different business objecting, but in fact over half of those are owned by the same company: Pleasure and Leisure, who own the Pleasure Beach, Joyland and at least four of those arcades in the article. A company who in one breath talks about investing in Great Yarmouth and bringing so much to the area, and then in another are quite happy to leave leave rides and machines in just enough of a working order so that they can operate and generate an income regardless of the quality of experience for the customer, treating their workers with contempt and generally having no interest other than extracting every last penny from any soul who arrives near the northern end of the A12. This is a company who, four years ago, obtained the coveted licence for the large casino – of which only eight could be built in the country – yet so far have only produced a patch of levelled dirt because they have run out of money. There are rumours – which I certainly won’t try to verify at this time of night – that too much has been invested in foreign property for them to be able to properly fund investment in Great Yarmouth. They talk good, but don’t always seem very keen to back up their words – and certainly don’t like anybody challenging them about it.

Thirdly, the fact that nobody bought the site at auction suggests that if Gold Rush hadn’t bought it then it would sit around doing nothing: just like the Holkham, just like the Empire, just the Garibaldi. However, be aware the site hasn’t been entirely bought by Gold Rush; indeed, it wasn’t even Gold Rush who actually tabled the offer, but Caesar’s Palace on the other side. So far, they haven’t done anything with their side, yet as far as the article is concerned they might as well not even exist.

I wonder how much the seafront cartel has decided that they would far rather the site goes to waste than actually have a smaller rival invest and harm their profits. I wonder how much their PR machine has tried to influence Archant into writing a very negative piece on the expansion works with not even an attempt to convey any benefits arising from the work being carried out. I wonder if there are already secret deals at work deliberately trying to stop others developing the seafront at their expense. I’m quite sure that the group would be more than happy for it to become yet another clothes outlet or conveyor of generic holiday tat like the dozens already littering Regent Road as it wouldn’t affect them, but heaven forbid another arcade with working machines. I also wonder if this had happened the other way round, where part of the cartel decided they wanted it to be an amusement arcade. I’m pretty sure any objections that Gold Rush would raise for these reasons would fall on deaf ears, and the purchaser praised for their commitment to investment in the town.

What makes the future decision even more unpredictable is that the body responsible for the decision, of which there are 13 spaces, is technically empty. With local council elections on 5th May, the tenure of the 13 members expires on the 15th May, leaving the decision in the first meeting of the new board with a completely unknown make-up. Whether it is filled with those with a proper vision for Marine Parade or those with sympathies towards big business groups is yet to be seen.