Edwardian gentility of Felixstowe threatened by casino development

Felixstowe is best known as Britain's busiest container port. But the Suffolk town has a more sedate side dating back more than a century, attracting generations of day-trippers to its beaches, amusement arcades and pier. Despite the development of a seafront leisure centre and the Spa Pavilion theatre, the Edwardian resort retains an air of faded gentility, taking particular pride in its seafront gardens.

Felixstowe is best known as Britain's busiest container port. But the Suffolk town has a more sedate side dating back more than a century, attracting generations of day-trippers to its beaches, amusement arcades and pier. Despite the development of a seafront leisure centre and the Spa Pavilion theatre, the Edwardian resort retains an air of faded gentility, taking particular pride in its seafront gardens.

But the gambling industry has singled out Felixstowe as a potential source of major profit, identifying three possible sites for casinos (including one offshore) in a town with fewer than 30,000 residents.

The industry believes the town has the potential to draw punters from as far away as Chelmsford, Cambridge and Norwich using the roads built for container lorries.

Andy Smith, the chairman of Felixstowe Council's planning committee, said: "It could be a leg to the rather broken stool of tourism in seaside resorts like Felixstowe."

He added: "There would, quite clearly, be a section of the community vehemently against it. Our view is that if it's going to happen, why don't we have it in Felixstowe and have people spend their money here."

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal District Council said: "It is an area that could do with some regeneration. A casino could bring some benefits, equally there could be some disadvantages. It is something we would have to consult with residents about. There is a tradition of gaming in seaside resorts. Casinos are seen as the next step up from amusement arcades."

The dilemma - whether to boost fortunes at the risk of losing old-fashioned ambience - will be echoed around the country's traditional resorts.

However, there are no such doubts in Blackpool, which plans to invest £1bn in casinos, or Southend-on-Sea, whose town clerk has been on a mission to Las Vegas.

Alan Cavill, the head of development at Blackpool Council, said: "We think regional casinos should be located in places such as Blackpool where people plan to go for a range of entertainment. Regional casinos will help bring the millions of extra visitors we need to make Blackpool successful again."

Other coastal towns that could take advantage of the deregulation of gaming include Ayr, Clacton, Cleethorpes, Great Yarmouth, Margate, New Brighton, Scarborough, Skegness and Torquay.

Away from the coast, casino operators are spreading their net far and wide. They are looking at opening for business in the Millennium Dome and Arsenal's new stadium in north London.

Caesars Entertainment, the owner of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, wants to build a £330m casino at Wembley. The Stanley Leisure group has announced plans to open a £125m casino complex next to Leeds United's Elland Road ground.

Kerzner International is working on a £265m scheme to build a casino and leisure complex by the Commonwealth Games site in Manchester and a similar proposal for Glasgow.

Sites in other cities from Bristol to Aberdeen and from Swansea to Sunderland are also being studied, while less likely possible locations include Aylesbury, Burnley, Corby and Rochdale.

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