MORE screens could be built at a county’s main cinema and more movies shown at community venues, under a deal announced today (Friday, May 29).

Durham County Council has appointed Picturehouse Cinemas to run the cinema at the Gala Theatre in Durham City and hopes the outsourcing deal, effective immediately, will lead to new cinema screens, as well as a new food offer, at the Gala, plus an enhanced cinema programme for Bishop Auckland Town Hall (BATH) and more community film screenings.

Stephen Howell, the council’s head of culture and sport, said it was a very exciting development.

“We are confident that... (it will bring) increased cinema marketing activity, boosting audiences and creating a better cinema experience for Durham’s residents and visitors.”

The intention to outsource the Gala and BATH was first announced last year. It was feared the Gala would become an art house venue, but council chiefs insisted Hollywood blockbusters were “here to stay”.

The Gala’s two existing screens need modernising and the council wants to save £200,000 from the venue’s running costs. A figure of £3 million in private investment had been mentioned. BATH, meanwhile, is currently limited to DVD projects and shows only about 45 films a year.

Formed in 1989, Picturehouse owns and operates 21 cinemas and runs programming at another 42 venues across the UK.

Jo Baranachea, project development manager at Picturehouse Cinemas, said: “This is great news for Picturehouse and Durham – it’s a collaboration we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

“We’re looking forward to working with Gala to develop the cinema offer, from film programme to catering and building expansion.”

The announcement will add to the ongoing debate over the future of Millennium Place, the home of the Gala.

Critics say it has failed as Durham’s cultural quarter and want Fenwick Lawson’s The Journey statue moved to Durham Cathedral.

Others say it must be revived, with greenery, a tourist information centre and more art and events.

County Durham has no multiplex cinema, although there are hopes one will be built at Dragonville or Framwelgate Waterside in Durham City and a deal has been struck to create one at Bishop Auckland Retail Park, St Helen Auckland.