ST NEOTS’ new cinema will help to increase footfall in the town and give shops a much-needed economic boost.

That is the view of St Neots Mayor Barry Chapman after he and other town councillors visited the site on Saturday (February 9) to examine the progress of the long-awaited £7million cinema and leisure development.

A survey commissioned by Huntingdonshire District Council revealed that footfall in the town has dropped 20 per cent in the past six years.

However Councillor Chapman said: "Having the cinema in that location, rather than out of town, will bring people in from the surrounding area who would normally go elsewhere.

"We're already seeing a renaissance in the number of restaurants we have in the town and we have had quite a few quality restaurants recently open. The cinema will help boost the local economy and help the shops. It is quite central to revitalising the town centre.

"It's going to create a whole lot of new jobs in the town and, as an employer, it will be amongst one of the largest. I am sure the people of St Neots will enjoy it and will be really pleased with the final development."

Cllr Chapman, who has worked on bringing what will become the Rowley Arts Centre to St Neots since 2007, admitted there had been much controversy about the 32,000 sq ft development in Huntingdon Street. However, he believes that anyone still opposed to the site will become more sympathetic as the building work progress.

Britannia Construction erected steel frames for the buildings at the weekend.

The company is currently on schedule with the project and may even finish early, Cllr Chapman said.

Work started in December last year and could be finished by September with an opening date in November - although it is early days, he stressed.

When it is finished, the Rowley Arts Centre will boast an 18,600 sq ft six-screen Cineworld cinema, as well as four restaurants including Frankie and Benny's, Pizza Express and Prezzo.

Richard Gregory, site manager for Britannia Construction, said: "We are delighted with how work is progressing and it's great to see the steel work starting.

"Seeing the frames being put up is an exciting part of any construction project. It's the start of the buildings taking shape and really gives you the first idea of what they will look like when they're finished."