Gift dilemma

IT is important that St Neots makes a decision about the Rowley gift on the basis of fact rather than the fiction put forward by Christine Baeker (Letters, February 28). Mr Rowley has not said that he wants the gift to go towards a cinema. Your reporter w

IT is important that St Neots makes a decision about the Rowley gift on the basis of fact rather than the fiction put forward by Christine Baeker (Letters, February 28).

Mr Rowley has not said that he wants the gift to go towards a cinema. Your reporter was in the room when the mayor and I met him: he said that the gift "comes with no strings attached" and that it was for the town to decide how to spend it.

A new purpose-built multi-screen cinema will cost several million pounds. The land will have to be acquired, a building of 30,000 square feet built and the cinema fitted out, equipped and decorated.

A cinema can be provided in the Priory Centre (or other converted building) at a cost of £1million. I accept that this is not a popular option, however.


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Cinema operators to whom I have spoken have said that the town is on the margins of viability and that they would require a large capital investment, the provision of land, the construction of a building and possibly a subsidy on the running costs. It is patently untrue to say that a multi-screen cinema "can easily be supported by the population" as Ms Baeker asserts. If that were the case, why has no cinema operator come forward until now?

It is also not the case to say that a youth centre would not have the support of young people. I have just received a petition signed by more than 40 young people in the town, supporting the idea of purchasing the old post office for this purpose. Why is this "a silly" idea? It is perfectly feasible and sustainable and would be well used by the town's youth. Of that I am sure. It does not help her argument to insult those who put forward a different view.

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It is also untrue to say the town council "could not be bothered to market the town to cinema companies". When the district council was saying that a cinema for St Neots was a "nonsense", the town council obtained an Arts Council grant to undertake a feasibility study and this was published last year. We have since spoken to six cinema operators, five of whom are interested in coming to our town, provided a venue can be found in the town centre.

As to seeking feedback, I have spent many hours discussing this issue with people in the town, as have elected members. I have been on television, the mayor has been on the radio, I have spoken at meetings and have debated the issue with practically everyone, from the vicar to the man who cleans the streets in the town centre.

We have (after a slow start) received a wide range of responses and suggestions. All of these will be discussed at the public meeting at the Priory Centre on Monday, April 2, at 7.30pm. I hope Ms Baeker will be there to add her voice to the debate.

The town council will be listening to everyone who has something to say. However, the decision will have to be made on the basis of reality, not fantasy.

P G DEVONALD, Town Clerk (unelected), St Neots

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