A shortlived cafe in Reading town centre will be converted into an adult gaming centre despite concerns over the risk of gambling addiction increasing.

Bru Cafe opened during the pandemic in 2020 but closed not long afterwards this March.

That cleared the way for gambling and adult gaming company Merkur Slots to launch a bid to take over the premises.

Now the cafe can be converted into a gambling premises by Merkur Slots following a decision made by councillors this month.

While the conversion of the building was recommended for approval by Reading Borough Council’s planning department, councillors on its planning applications committee still voiced concerns about the proliferation of gambling venues in the town centre.

Friar Street and neighbouring West Street have two casinos, an adult games centre and a betting shop.

Councillors expressed concern that the presence of Merkur Slots can have a negative impact on those struggling with gambling addictions.

Councillor Karen Rowland (Labour, Abbey) said: “We do have family homes coming with Station Hill.

“I think that we can understand that no matter how well these properties are managed, no matter the safeguarding and everything in place, that a gaming centre can be a place wherein addictions of another kind can take place and form.”

Also, cllr Josh Williams (Green, Park) said: “There’s substantial evidence of harm caused by gambling across the country.”

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Cllr Williams noted that other councils have planning and licensing policies that can limit the concentration of gambling shops in an area, suggesting that such policies could be replicated in Reading.

But ultimately, it was acknowledged that members did not have the power to turn the conversion down.

The conversion plan was initially meant to be decided in September, however, a decision was deferred after cllr Rowland asked for more information on policies that may limit the concentration of gambling premises in an area, and whether alternative uses for the building had been proposed.

Planning officer David Brett concluded that such policies do not currently exist within the council’s Local Plan, nor in its licensing policy.

Therefore the conversion scheme was approved unanimously by councillors at a meeting on Wednesday, October 5.

You can view the scheme by typing reference 230908 into the council’s planning portal.

Merkur Slots won licensing approval to operate at an earlier date.

Reading Chronicle: The licensing application for Merkur Slots to take over the Bru café at 104-105 Friar Street, Reading. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting ServiceThe licensing application for Merkur Slots to take over the Bru café at 104-105 Friar Street, Reading. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Cllr Rowland did say that policies relating to the proliferation of gambling and adult gaming centres should be considered as the council is undertaking a partial update of its Local Plan which was approved in 2019.

Earlier in the meeting, she did note that Merkur Slots would be dedicated to gaming, and would sell alcohol that may exacerbate gambling issues in the area.