PLANS for a new cinema in the centre of Newton Abbot have been thrown into turmoil again amid concerns about the size of the proposed new building.
Teignbridge Council’s executive will debate the controversial plans next week.
And if they follow the advice of their planning officers and cut the size of the planned new cinema, a would-be operator has said it will withdraw, leaving the plans in limbo again.
The cinema is seen as a central part of the project to regenerate the town centre using money from the government’s levelling-up funds.
However, the scheme is already months behind schedule.
The national Arc cinema group was reported to be interested in running the six-screen cinema, but if the council reduced plans to four screens, Arc is likely to pull out.
It says a four-screen venue will not allow it to compete with neighbouring multiplex cinemas in Torbay and Exeter.
Now Teignbridge’s executive faces some tough decisions over the future of the cinema.
Objectors were up in arms when plans were first unveiled, as the striking new ‘box’ building finished just feet from the existing Market Hall, a listed building.
They said it was too big and dominant on the street.
A report to the executive says there are serious financial implications in re-thinking the plans, including jeopardising a £9 million grant from the government. Delays could also see costs escalating.
Another risk is that an amended scheme may not be supported by planning officers or councillors.
The delays would add at least seven months to the project, meaning the cinema would not be finished until April 2026.
The council says it does not intend to build the cinema without having a tenant signed up, although this could cause yet more delays.
Across the country, large cinema operators are struggling to fill seats, but independent and ‘boutique’ operators are doing better.
The council will look at options including pressing on with the six-screen cinema against the advice of its own planning officers.
This would allow Arc to stay in the picture.
It could also pursue an alternative project with the money, although the levelling up fund has urged councils to avoid delays.
Other options include refurbishing the Alexandra Cinema building and exploring options for a block which was until recently occupied by Wilko.
The cinema could even be scrapped completely, and the council could ask the levelling up fund if it can go ahead with the town’s Market Hall and Queen Street projects without it.
There is also the nuclear option of abandoning the entire group of projects covering cinema, Market Hall and transport elements.
But, the report warns: ‘This option is likely to cause significant reputational damage to the authority and may jeopardise our ability to secure future central government funding.
‘This option would also deprive Newton Abbot of the investment and regeneration it thoroughly deserves to unlock its true potential.’