Footing the bill over town's cinema plan

THOUSANDS of St Neots taxpayers money is to be spent on investigating whether the town s multi-million pound cinema dream could ever become a reality. St Neots Town Council is working on producing an outline planning application to build a cinema on the

THOUSANDS of St Neots taxpayers' money is to be spent on investigating whether the town's multi-million pound cinema dream could ever become a reality.

St Neots Town Council is working on producing an outline planning application to build a cinema on the former fire station site in Huntingdon Street.

At a town council meeting on Wednesday, December 3 it was revealed that the drawing up of the plans could cost up to £19,000.

However, councillors were adamant they could get the work done for "considerably less".

The thinking behind the scheme is that planning permission - even outline permission - will help lure a cinema operator to the town.

But the £2,000 in the town council's budget to cover the costs will fall short.

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Cllr Barry Chapman, who is leading a cinema business group, said he thought the £2,000 to submit outline planning "was not nearly enough".

He told The Hunts Post: "I need to investigate further how much it is going to be but I'm pretty sure the £2,000 is not going to be enough."

At the meeting Cllr Chapman said the council needed to obtain outline planning permission as an incentive for a cinema operator to come to St Neots.

He said: "A cinema operator is not going to want to prepare plans for a cinema in the town if it is not going to be supported by Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC)."

To move the cinema plans forward, Cllr Chapman said he intended to submit a letter to Steve Ingram, head of planning at HDC asking for guidance on the application.

He added: "We are trying to pave the way for the operator so that they can enter into negotiations with HDC.

"But we need some encouragement from HDC, like a letter of comfort to show cinema operators they would be welcome in the town.

"We need to get to a position where the Huntingdon Street site is seen as the St Neots cinema site so that operators know that land is not going to be snatched away from them."

However, Cllr Gordon Thorpe felt it should be the operators doing more to bring the town's cinema plan to fruition.

He said: "HDC is awaiting planning applications for that site. They have told me that they have had no official approach from any cinema operators. I would strongly recommend that if an operator is interested in coming to St Neots they submit a planning application."

Cllr Derek Giles added: "We need to break this stalemate somewhere along the line."

It is more than 18 months since Lord of the Manor, Peter Rowley gave £1million to the town to provide a cinema. Reel Cinemas is said to be interested in developing the Huntingdon Street site in a multi-million pound development that would also incorporate three restaurants.

Cllr Chapman said: "Things are moving along. I know people expect it to happen immediately but for the best part of a year we have been in a stalemate and now we are making progress. The operators are still interested and they see St Neots as a very good place for them to open up a venue.

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