CHRISTIANS have hailed the "common sense" decision by councillors to block a gambling machine company from opening next door to a charity serving vulnerable and debt burdened families.

Reading Borough Council's planning committee unanimously rejected Riva Bowl LLP's application to covert the former Express Gym in Oxford Road, west Reading, into an adult gaming centre with up to 50 fruit machines.

Speaking after last Wednesday's Civic Centre meeting Ann-Marie Paterson, from Christian Community Action (CCA) which runs a charity shop and support centre next door to the proposed site said: "It's a common sense decision. It was the wrong type of development in the wrong place and we are pleased that our customers and clients will not be put at risk."

Earlier she told the panel the plans would offer "overwhelming temptation" to the hundreds of clients visiting her charity for drug and alcohol counselling and debt advice and she feared it would increase crime and antisocial behaviour in the area. She added: "In recent years the police and local councillors have reduced the crime in the Oxford Road and this centre will undo all that hard work."

Neighbours also complained it would cause extra noise and attract addicts and drunks, and Battle ward councillor Sarah Hacker said: "It's unsuitable in a residential area."

But Jeet Grewa, for Riva, stressed the centre would provide a "sociable experience", operate a strict over 18s policy and introduce measures to prevent problem gambling. She said: "It's unfair to say all people who come in are drug taking and drinking addicts. It's a controlled environment with mature clientele."

But panel member and Battle ward councillor Cllr Chris Maskell said: "Councillors have a duty to protect residents. It isn't a like for like swap and I believe antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime is a very important material consideration."

Panel chairman Cllr Pete Ruhemann said it would "undermine public safety".