IT’S cameras roll for a new six-screen cinema for south Durham, after councillors overruled the fears of their planning officials to give the £50m venture the thumbs up.
Durham County Council officers argued the project to build a cinema, shops, restaurants and other leisure facilities at Bishop Auckland Retail Park, in St Helen’s, should be thrown out because it would hit town centre trade.
But after an hour-long debate including several heartfelt speeches worthy of a Hollywood tearjerker, the council’s county planning committee voted unanimously in favour.
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The vote means Bishop Auckland is a huge step closer to having its own cinema for the first time in 30 years and the project will now go before the Secretary of State.
Councillor Charlie Kay told today’s (Tuesday, April 1) County Hall debate: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to do something really big and really positive, not just for Bishop Auckland but for the whole of south Durham.”
Knowing a Facebook group supporting the cinema has attracted 5,000 members and more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition, he begged: “Don’t let the people down. Please approve this proposal.”
If it wasn’t going to be built at St Helen’s, it wouldn’t be built at all, he argued.
Coun Christine Wilson said the outcry at the officers’ recommendation since its publication last week had been “overwhelming”.
County Durham, an area of 600sq miles, has just two cinemas and Craig Kipling, representing the developers, said there had been interest from complex providers, plus food chains.
It is estimated the scheme could create around 300 jobs.
However, some struck a more cautious note, with Coun Mike Dixon saying the “worm of a cinema has been dangled twice before”, with no such development forthcoming.
A cinema was part of the original retail park scheme, approved in 2008, which included a Sainsbury’s superstore and Bishop Auckland FC’s Heritage Park ground.
Hence, a condition was agreed that no more than 25 per cent of the retail development should be allowed without progress on the cinema element.
It was also agreed that £294,000 of the £300,000 payable by the developers as part of the deal would be spent on advisers to support local businesses, with the remaining £6,000 going to off-site ecological works.