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Casino challenge: Court of Appeal says no

A challenge to the decision of Southampton City Council to grant a large casino licence has failed at the final hurdle.

In 2016, following a long competition under the Gambling Act 2005, the Council decided to grant the licence to Aspers, whose proposal at the Royal Pier anchored a large urban development scheme creating over 4,000 jobs, including hotels, residential, retail, offices, a community park and, of course, the casino itself.

A total of seven organisations had applied for the right to run the casino, with the prize going to the proposal adjudged to result in the greatest benefit to Southampton.

A judicial review challenge was mounted by GGV, a rival operator, whose proposal was for a casino on a retail site at Watermark West Quay. The main grounds of challenge were that the Council had adopted the wrong method for calculating the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the proposals, and in any case, the Council should have considered the possibility of the Royal Pier scheme proceeding even if Aspers was excluded. The challenge was dismissed at the permission stage by Mr Justice Baker in February 2017.

GGV took its case to the Court of Appeal, but Lord Justice Jackson has refused permission to appeal, bringing the case to a final conclusion. He held that it was "beyond the call of duty" for the Council to research what would have happened in the hypothetical situation that Aspers was not the anchor tenant. Further, the gap in GVA between the two schemes was such that however it was calculated the gap would remain: "there was really no contest between the two."

The decision represents an endorsement of Southampton City Council's methodology and approach, and the quality of its decision-making. The Gambling Act 2005 clearly gives some latitude to authorities in the way they assess benefit, and absent some clear error the courts are most unlikely to interfere.

Philip Kolvin QC of Cornerstone Barristers advised Southampton City Council throughout the application process and represented the Council in the subsequent legal proceedings.