Public hearings begin on supercasino site

The first of a series of public meetings on the seven proposed sites for Britain’s first regional casino begins today.

The Millennium Dome is the first venue to come under scrutiny, and local campaign groups, the police, religious groups and members of the Greater London Assembly will have a chance to have their say.

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the dome and hopes to turn it into a major entertainment and hotel complex, including a regional casino, was yesterday forced to apologise for misrepresenting the support it had for the scheme from locals.

AEG chief executive David Campbell said that mistakes had been made in documents sent to Casino Advisory Panel (CAP), which is responsible for choosing the site of the new casino, suggesting that religious groups were in favour.

He spoke out after complaints from the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy, and yesterday a spokesman for the group, Reverend Malcolm Torrey, made clear that many Christian and Muslim groups in east London were unhappy with the proposals.

“The Muslim community is fundamentally opposed and so are some of the other religious communities,” he told Channel Four News.

“Christians are generally against a casino coming to this area and many congregations have discussed the issue because they are concerned at the damage that can be done to individual families and their local communities.”

In the advisory panel’s preliminary rankings published earlier this summer, the dome came out as the favourite, although it will not make a decision until the end of this year.

But last night opposition MPs raised concerns about the whole process, citing AEG’s misrepresentation of residents’ views and the controversy surrounding the firm’s links with deputy prime minister John Prescott, who met with AEG’s owner several times.

“The process of awarding the supercasino licence has been rocked by continuing allegations and controversy,” shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire.

“Admissions that the concerns of faith groups and local residents were misrepresented in evidence undermines the Casino Advisory Panel.”

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, added: “There have been question marks surrounding this process, not least because of the need for so many independent members of the panel to absent themselves from discussions.

“My fear is that when the final recommendation is made… we will still have a long way to go because challenges to the decision are likely.”