Wetherspoon will invest £2.5 million to fully refurbish the former Empire Bingo on Nicolson Street and create up to 100 new jobs.
Instead of applying for a new licence in one of the Edinburgh Licensing Board’s areas of over-provision, which councillors indicated they would reject – the firm was varying the existing bingo licence.
Clerk of the licensing board, Nick Smith, told councillors: “It’s a significant change in terms of the operation but the capacity is remaining unchanged. It’s an existing licence.”
JD Wetherspoon won permission to change the premises into a pub at the third attempt last year, and has now passed a licensing hurdle to open its doors to the public.
A previous planning application in 2015 was turned down because it would “lead to an unacceptable increase in odours having a material detrimental effect on the living conditions for nearby residents”.
Planning documents for the approved scheme states that “the kitchen will be a ‘microwave’ kitchen, essentially only allowing for the heating of food and not cooking.”
Police urged councillors to turn down the application.
Sergeant John Young from Police Scotland, pointed to the premises being in an area of over-provision of alcohol and said granting permission would be “inconsistent with protecting and improving public health”.
He added: “Police Scotland have concerns of the impact this would have on the local community. The capacity of the premises would cause undue nuisance at the terminal hour with people leaving.”
A spokesman from NHS Lothian added that initial plans to start selling alcohol to customers from 9am “is very early and sets a precedent”.
Archie McKay, representing the company told councillors that the 9am commencement of selling alcohol would be pushed back to 11am, and an agreed 430 capacity reduced to 400.
He added: “This particular proposal is for the former bingo hall and has laid empty for a number of years. They are licensed premises with the same trading hours and same capacity. £2.5m is being spent to completely refurbish those premises and around 100 jobs will be created.
“We have a building that’s remained unused and something needs to be done with it. We have an applicant with a good track record and is willing to invest heavily in it.”
Licensing board convener, Cllr Norman Work, said: “It’s an area that has caused us problems in the past.”
Cllr Joanna Mowat told the company that she would not be supporting the application if it was not merely tinkering with the bingo licence, which has yet to expire. She also pointed out that the planning applications received “significant numbers of objections”.
She added: “I have huge concerns about introducing this type of operation in this area. It’s a very delicate site.
“I would not be supporting a new licence in this area but it’s varying an existing licence.”
Councillors unanimously approved the varied licence application.
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