TEMPERS flared as councillors reluctantly backed plans for an out-of-town retail and leisure development – but only if a proposed cinema is built first.

Members of Bishop Auckland Town Council expressed concerns about the impact more retail units being built on the Fieldon Bridge site, in St Helen Auckland, would have on their ailing town centre.

The outline planning application, which includes a cinema, leisure facilities, restaurants and retail units, follows the building of two supermarkets and Bishop Auckland Shopping Park close to the proposed site in recent years.

Speaking at the town council’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, October 29, councillors were unanimous in their wish to see a cinema built but views were mixed when it came to deciding what is best for the future of the town.

In the end, the vote went five-four in favour of the cinema but with reservations over the retail aspect of the plans, and members were keen on ensuring the cinema and leisure facilities are built first.

Councillor Lee Brownson said: “These sorts of retailers won’t come to Bishop Auckland town centre. I want to see the leisure go up first. The chances are the plans are going to go ahead regardless.

“If we are seen to oppose it then we might end up with no cinema and no leisure facilities and that could back fire on us. We could lose the whole thing we have been fighting for over the last 30 years.”

Councillor Ann Golightly said: “I honestly think that if the retail doesn’t go up then we won’t get the cinema.”

Bishop Auckland mayor, councillor David Fleming, said: “I am fearful we will lose the whole thing.”

Councillor Sam Zair failed to get the backing of fellow members to write a letter to Durham County Council’s planning department urging the retail units to be withdrawn from the application.

He also questioned the purpose of the Bishop Auckland Town Team, which was set up improve the town centre, if the development got off the ground.

“Bishop Auckland needs a cinema,” he said. “We have been crying out for one for years. What I don’t agree with is bulky goods being allowed. I am sorry but we cannot afford anymore retail units up there."

The planning application is expected to go before members of Durham County Council’s planning committee before the end of the year.