Bury St Edmunds: Councillor says a casino could boost the Apex

A CASINO has been suggested as an alternative use for a music and entertainment venue which is being heavily subsidised by taxpayers.

Independent councillor David Nettleton, who has been vocal about the cost of the Apex in Bury St Edmunds, believes another use must be found for the building, which is owned and run by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

The Apex - which ended up costing nearly double the original estimate of �9.5million to build - cost taxpayers �736,457 in 2011/12, �153,307 over budget, and this figure is expected to rise to �775,600 this year.

Mr Nettleton does not believe the building can be a success in its current form as an arts/entertainment venue as its losses are too high, adding how he believes the obvious solution would be to find an alternative use with the borough council charging a rent.

He said: “Bury hasn’t got a casino. The people who say they don’t want to encourage gambling, it’s fine provided they don’t buy lottery tickets.”

He added: “It seems to work in any town and they do well out of it. The idea is, we would have a partner, a casino company, and we would charge them a rent.”

But Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley thought transforming the Apex - which opened in 2010 - into a casino would be a bad move.

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“Of course we have to increase commercial revenue so that the Apex is less of a burden to local council taxpayers. However, I think turning it into a casino is a thoroughly bad idea and completely unacceptable.

“Firstly, because it is totally out of sympathy with the character of Bury St Edmunds as a great county market town. Secondly, because we have too much gambling in our society as it is. We certainly don’t need any more in Bury St Edmunds.”

Alan Jary, chairman of the Bury Society, said he could see “no reason” why a casino could not be part of an entertainment offering in the town.

“I do think it would be a good idea if a number of people in the entertainment industry and a group from Bury actually sat down and talked about the Apex.

“We always knew it would never make a surplus, buildings of that nature never do. What we need to do of course is maximise the use for the best return.”

Discussions are taking place about a trust being set up to jointly run the Apex and the Theatre Royal - also in the town - but Mr Nettleton said he did not know how you could join two loss-making bodies together “and make anything other than a large loss”.

He also believed an indoor market was worth exploring for the Apex.

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said any suggestion of an alternative use was “premature”.

“As part of the two year review of the Apex, the council and its partners are developing a business plan to test the idea of the Apex and the Theatre Royal coming together in some form to make savings and improve west Suffolk’s cultural offer.

“Together these two organisations already make an estimated �10million contribution to the local economy. The result of this work will be presented to councillors and the Theatre Royal board before the end of the year.”

A report by the Apex venue director Tony Doherty on the performance of the Apex after a year and a half’s operation said it was important to emphasise that putting on a range of professional concerts at a 500 seated or 750 standing venue was “unlikely” to be profitable overall.

But he said the two year review papers “indicated a strong future for the Apex if is correctly positioned in the regional market”.