CINEMA wars have broken out in Durham, as two rival operators race to open the city’s first multi-screen complex.

Today (Tuesday, October 6), Clearbell Capital won planning permission for a £30m scheme to redevelop the ailing Gates shopping centre as shops, restaurants, 253 student beds and a six-screen cinema.

But just 48 hours earlier, a separate consortium announced a deal for The Everyman Group to run a multi-screen cinema just yards away, as part of £150m redevelopment of Milburngate House.

The unexpected Hollywood rush comes as Durham has languished 12 years without a mainstream cinema, the Robins on North Road having closed in January 2003.

Nick Berry, for Clearbell, told Durham County Council's county planning committee that Odeon would run The Gates cinema, work would start on site early next year and the development would open in stages between Christmas 2017 and summer 2018.

By contrast, no planning application has yet been submitted for Milburngate House, although at the weekend a project leader said he hoped to get the go-ahead early next year and start building soon afterwards.

Ben Sykes, from the Milburngate project, called on councillors to delay a decision on The Gates, to allow further discussions between the two developers on “connectivity” between their projects.

Mr Berry said it was “not clear” how Milburngate would be developed, but offered £125,000 for “connectivity”.

Councillor Paul Taylor said The Gates was a blight on the city and he loathed it, but the proposal was exciting and much needed for the future vitality of the city centre.

Cllr Bill Moir added: “We’re going to get a cinema back in Durham. This is cause for massive celebration for everyone I know, am related to and represent.”

Cllr Alan Shield asked what would be done to prevent students falling into the Wear from The Gates’ proposed riverside promenade, to which council officer Henry Jones said most people would use the mall level, one storey up.

The wisdom of building more student accommodation in Durham was questioned, but councillors were told developers did not need to prove “need”.

The scheme was approved unanimously.

Afterwards, Mr Berry said: “We’re delighted with the decision. This is now a deliverable scheme. Odeon has wanted to get in (to Durham) for some time and this is their preferred location.”