Town centre plans given go Ahead during heated debate

Tuesday 22nd February 2022 7:51 pm
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Concept Drawing of Newton Abbot Market Square (Image: Teignbridge District Council)

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PLANS for a multi-million pound regeneration of the centre of Newton Abbot have been given the go-ahead despite concerns about the future of the Alexandra Cinema and theatre. 

At the full meeting of Teignbridge District Council on Tuesday, members voted on proposals for the town’s market and cultural quarters which will be funded by the government’s £9.2 million Future High Street Fund.

The council argued it would help boost jobs and economic prosperity. 

But there was strong opposition to the plans which mean the landmark Grade-II listed market hall and Alexandra Cinema will be restored to an earlier flexible design and a new four-screen cinema built.

Outlining the case to accept the recommendations, Cllr Nina Jeffries (Lib Dem, Teignmouth West) said the plans had been a long time coming.

‘Today is the convergence of 12 years of outreach, meetings, consultations, refinements and seeking out financial ways to bring those discussions into reality,’ she said. 

‘Public engagement surveys resulted in 877 responses, with more recent stakeholder engagement sessions involving 22 people from local organisations and groups representative of hundreds of their customers. 

‘That’s thousands of people around the table. If we vote ‘yes’ today to accept the money in terms of consultation, it’s important to keep that dialogue going where it’s relevant and useful.’

But the biggest concern of some councillors is the potential loss of an historic theatre.  Critics were furious at what they suggested would damage the cultural heritage of Newton Abbot.  

Cllr Richard Daws (‘Newton Says No’, Ambrook) said it was ironic that the birthplace of Francis Matcham, an architect famous for designing theatres and music halls, might get rid of its existing theatre.  

‘It will be an act of insanity, of cultural vandalism, to rip this out before exhausting all avenues,’ said Cllr Daws.

He also rejected claims there had been adequate consultation and insisted there needed to be more. ‘Because if we do not do this, the theatre’s trust, as they pointed out, would not support the planning application,’ he said. 

‘And without their support, this council will be recklessly risking the £9.2 million grant themselves.’ 

The Future High Street Fund proposals also involve pedestrian improvements to Queen Street and the creation of more cycle routes.  

Cllr Mike Hocking (Ind, Bradley) said he would not want to reject £9.2 million but also felt there had been insufficient consultation and feared the council was at risk of repeating past mistakes.  

‘I’m here to support Newton Abbot – its residents,’ he said. ‘And I believe this council, if they’re not very careful, will be making mistakes like they have made in the past. 

‘They made mistakes with allowing the market to be redeveloped in the late 1970s. 

“They made mistakes when they allowed Asda to move from where it was going to be to where it is now, leaving Newton Abbot with a desolate area and a big pit in the middle.’

The regeneration plans were agreed in principle last year but consultations with market tenants, traders, performance, theatre, arts and cultural community groups have been taking place since. 

Feedback to the council suggests there is considerable support and enthusiasm for plans which would support the wider economy by making the location work for a wide spectrum of business, community and cultural groups.

But Cllr Liam Mullone (‘Newton Says No’, College Ward) said many people had good reason to oppose anything which would harm the Alexandra Cinema. 

In an angry statement he said: ‘All we’ve heard so far is people who do not live in Newton Abbot pushing this scheme, telling people who live in Newton Abbot, sometimes for generations, about what it needs to be vibrant, get footfall, it needs TLC and these people don’t live here. 

‘You have no idea. Nobody in this town supports this. They hate it and they’re starting to hate you.’

But Cllr Gordon Hook (Lib Dem, Buckland & Milber) replied by saying the councillors should be working in the interests of people in Newton Abbot and voting against the plans now may be letting local people down. 

‘Do you want £9.2 million for the regeneration of Newton Abbot or don’t you?’ he asked. ‘Because that’s essentially what we have to vote on. 

‘I want to see live theatre in Newton Abbot. I want to see a cultural hub in Newton Abbot. But I want to see jobs in Newton Abbot.  I want to see active, thriving retail in Newton Abbot. 

‘And we’re talking about families here putting meals on tables because rejecting 9.2 million will be nothing short of bonkers. Utterly stark, staring bonkers.’

Councillors approved the budget to deliver the project and said that consultations would continue.

The final, more detailed plans will need planning consent.

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