A “magnificent” Grade-II* listed building – which has been described as the “grandest building in High Wycombe’s High Street” – will be turned into an adult amusement centre after councillors reluctantly approved the controversial plans.
The three-storey Old Bank House at 39 High Street is Grade II* listed and used to be a building society but has been empty since 2012.
Councillors on Wycombe District Council’s planning committee were overwhelmingly against allowing Future Leisure Ltd to open up an adult gaming centre in the “beautiful” building – but because it did not contravene any planning rules, they had to allow them to go ahead.
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Chris Whitehead said: “This is a beautiful, beautiful building – for it to be reduced to an amusement arcade seems to be sacrilege.”
Cllr Paul Turner added: “This is such a shame – the grandest building in our High Street and it becomes an amusement arcade. I can think of several words to describe how I feel about this but it probably wouldn’t be polite to use them.
“If the windows are boarded up so the lights from the machines can’t be seen from the outside, it will look dead. That is not an active street frontage and it is not what we want in our High Street.
“We have to refuse this – it is an awful idea. We would be taking a backwards step in allowing this when you look at the mental health issues surrounding gambling.”
Former mayor Cllr Sarfraz Khan Raja agreed that the plans were “awful”. He said: “As a former mayor, as many of my colleagues are, when you’re parading down this beautiful High Street and you see a building like that, it makes you proud.
“This just isn’t the right building to turn into a gambling parlour.”
Cllr Lesley Clarke OBE, who represents the area, said she appreciate a business wanted to move into the High Street – but said the building was not the right place for it.
She said: “It is a historic building in a historic High Street. We have a moral and a social duty to consider this with health and wellbeing in mind. It would be better suited for accommodation.”
Cllr Clive Harriss was more positive about the plans – saying the days of “shady amusement arcades are long gone”.
He said: “It will bring a little bit of life back to the High Street and bring more people into the town centre.”
As councillors made it clear they did not want to allow the plans to go ahead, planning officers reminded them there were no legal reasons to say no – meaning the applicant could appeal the decision, costing the council money.
Even so, councillors were tied in a vote to allow the plans to move forward – with six voting to approve and six voting against.
It meant planning committee chairman Cllr Alan Turner had to take the deciding vote.
He said: “It is incredible that we even still have such a magnificent building in the High Street. I would love to see something else in it but we are where we are. If the building is left much longer, it could deteriorate.
“Very, very reluctantly, I will go with the officers’ recommendations.”
The applicants will be able to move into the ground floor of the building, but they have strict rules to adhere to – they will not be able to put up internal and external advertisements or window displays or flashing lights, and the machines inside must be screened from view from the outside.