Plans to convert a former town centre bank into a gambling arcade, which hundreds of locals were opposed to, have been unanimously approved by councillors.

The vacant shop space at 36 King Street in Thetford, which housed a HSBC bank until December 2020, will be transformed into an ‘adult gaming centre’, despite some 500 people having signed a petition against it.

The decision to grant permission for the change of use was made at a meeting of Breckland Council’s planning committee on Thursday, July 7.

At the meeting, a council officer said that the proposed arcade would increase footfall to the high street and encourage “shared trips” to neighbouring businesses, as well as adding to the town’s “evening economy”.

Mac MacDonald, who chairs the Safer Thetford Action Group and is himself standing to be a councillor, argued that the arcade was not needed or wanted by residents.

However, he insisted he is not the "Mary Whitehouse of Thetford" - the fervent morality campaigner who fought to ban sexual content from television from the 1960s onwards.

He said: “I have lived a life and I’m up for all kinds of enjoyment for all parts of our society, but we already have one gambling place.

“If you look at our high street, it is becoming a monoculture.”

An agent speaking on behalf of the arcade operator said that the withdrawal of banks from high streets is a “well-known phenomenon” and that the shop space is currently a “dead frontage” bringing no benefits to the town.

She added that the new business would bring jobs and that it would be “very different” to a betting shop both in terms of its operation and its clientele.

Local Conservative councillor Jane James said she was glad that the applicants had decided not to operate 24 hours a day, and had instead offered to be open from 7am until 2am.

She said she was “mindful the world has changed” and “our use of the high street has changed”.

With “a heavy heart”, she said she recognised residents’ concerns but, looking at it pragmatically and in town-planning terms, it would be “a welcome use of an empty space”.