PLANS for a new four-screen cinema in Newton Abbot have been criticised by a campaign group, some local residents and a  Teignbridge District councillor.

The plans were submitted two weeks ago by Teignbridge District Council to replace the New Look and Shaul’s Bakery retail units in Newton Abbot’s Market Walk with a three-story unit.

The plans were put forward as part of Teignbridge Council’s Future High Street Fund bid which would also see the interior of the Grade 2 listed Alexandra Theatre altered and Scott Cinemas move their current two-screen operation to a much larger four-screen premises next door.

The Mid-Devon Advertiser featured responses on both sides of the story in an article on July 30 with some people supporting and some opposing the plans.

‘I like it,’ said Newton Abbot’s town development manager, Sally Henley, who has spoken passionately in favour of the development.

She said: ‘It has always struck me as a bit of a missed opportunity that a town the size of Newton Abbot and with its huge catchment area, does not boast a multi-screen cinema.

A press release from Teignbridge District Cllr Richard Daws and Friends of Alexandra Theatre campaigner Claire Holden says: The new drawings released demonstrate that the new build would be within touching distance and higher than the Grade 2 listed Market Hall and adjoining Alexandra Theatre.

‘Concerns are being raised that a council could grant itself listed building consent and planning permission on a development that would impact on listed buildings in the centre of the historic market town.

‘The doubling of the capacity of the cinema offer is also being questioned along with the loss of Newton Abbot’s only fully functioning theatre. Theatre groups are currently only allowed three weeks usage of the Alexandra Theatre under the terms of the cinema lease.’

Richard Ward, chairman of Newton Abbot & District Musical and Comedy Society said: ‘Though we support a cinema remaining in Newton Abbot, once Scott’s move out of the Alexandra Theatre, the current plans both destroy the architectural integrity of the town centre and create a supersized cinema offer that has not been demonstrated is commercially viable.’

The planning and listed building applications for the proposed cinema, that can be seen on TDC’s planning portal references – 22/01129/MAJ and 22/01130/LBC.have been receiving many objections.

‘Critics of the plans have noted the council have not been clear about how the development will impact on the Market Hall and Alexandra Theatre buildings.’

Claire Holden, who leads the Friends of The Alexandra Theatre campaign and runs NEWTS, a theatre group who host annual Children’s Theatre shows in the Alexandra, said: ‘There is a perfect opportunity for the council to repurpose their scheme to build a ‘to-scale’ much less dominating state of the art multi-screen cinema on the New Look and Shaul’s Bakery site and upgrade the Grade 2 Alexandra Theatre.

‘We know from our campaign that there is the appetite for a year-round community run theatre and cultural hub in what is already a fully functioning Theatre, the Alex’.

Richard Daws of the South Devon Alliance, one of a  number of Teignbridge councillors who have been lobbying for the retention of the Alexandra Theatre said: ‘The council cannot sensibly grant itself planning permission for the proposed ‘over scale’ cinema.

‘With some joined up thinking and a small amount of tweaking to the plans, in one fell swoop Teignbridge Council could create a stunning cultural quarter that would revitalise Newton Abbot, become the pride of Teignbridge and a creative beacon for the South West.’

‘Proactively planning for the future’

A Teignbridge Council spokesperson said: ‘This is the first step in our £9m programme to regenerate the town centre, reviving the market quarter and creating a vibrant cultural and café quarter.

‘This planning application for the cinema is not a consultation, and we’ll be bringing together plans for the market hall and cultural quarter once they’ve been tested and shared with the steering group.

‘The projects in the town centre are another example of the Council proactively planning for present and future communities, by creating a vibrant, modern destination, to go along with other infrastructure investments such as new affordable homes, schools, roads, play parks and cycle routes that will provide benefits for everyone.’