Politicians voice opposition to amusement arcade plan

Politicians voice opposition to amusement arcade plan

3 August 2022

FRESH concern has been voiced about plans to transform the former Bank of Ireland building in Downpatrick into an amusement arcade and adult gaming centre.

South Down MLA Patrick Brown and Downpatrick councillor Oonagh Hanlon are unhappy with the proposal which is being spearheaded by a Newtownabbey-based company which  is seeking permission to redevelop the former Market Street bank which closed last summer.

The proposal by Oasis Retails Service includes a £350,000 refurbishment investment which will create up to 12 new jobs.

In papers submitted to Newry, Mourne and Down Council planners, the company has also confirmed that the anticipated opening hours of the new arcade and gaming centre will be from 9am until midnight from Monday to Saturday and from 11.30am until midnight on Sunday.

The company says it has been at the “forefront of raising standards within the local gaming industry” for more than 50 years, is keen to establish a presence in Downpatrick and is dedicated to the promotion of responsible gaming. Oasis also insists that only those over 18 will be permitted.

The company said it has identified the former Bank of Ireland building as an “ideal opportunity” to provide a “quality location” which will not result in any loss of retail floorspace within the town centre and that its plan can enhance Downpatrick’s evening economy.

In addition, Oasis says its proposal will “introduce a complimentary facility to the town centre and promote the diversity of uses within it” and bring into beneficial use an otherwise vacant building and “will enhance the appearance and character of the area”.

In addition to local politicians, Downpatrick Town Committee has voiced its concern about the proposal and plans to formally object to it.

The committee says the Market Street site which has been earmarked for the planned investment is not appropriate with the proposal not in keeping with the town centre.

Mr Brown said he wants to see major investment in Downpatrick “which has been overlooked for so long”.

He continued: “I campaigned for election to the Assembly on a pledge to ‘restore our county town’ and am working hard to bring stakeholders together to transform Downpatrick.

“We need to look at things like rates reform, building on our rich historic significance, developing an evening economy strategy, improvements to the existing infrastructure and attracting private business into the area. However, an arcade is not a natural fit for the town.”

Mr Brown suggested arcades and gaming centres can potentially lead to gambling addiction, insisting that Downpatrick requires “positive investment” which adds to the lives of people who live there.

Cllr Hanlon says she sees “no logic” for approving the proposal for the arcade and gaming centre at this particular location.

The Sinn Fein politician said that while she did not want to see empty buildings, it was important to consider carefully the image of Downpatrick town centre. 

“Sinn Fein is committed to the regeneration of Downpatrick and developing the town to its full potential. There is also fantastic work being done by local groups and traders to revitalise local retail offerings and encourage tourism and visitors to the town”, she continued.

“An amusement arcade would potentially be very detrimental to this vision for the town. I acknowledge that the company behind the plan will potentially create new jobs in the area, but it is simply the wrong location.”

Cllr Hanlon said Market Street had benefited from tourists visiting the nearby St Patrick Centre and, more recently, the relocation of the popular artisan market.

“An amusement arcade would not be in keeping with existing retail outlets which offer a good mix of cafés, retail and office space at this part of Downpatrick,” she added.