A Richmond charity have rejected a developer’s offer of compensation in an ongoing dispute over the creation of a new cinema in Catterick Garrison.
The day before a planning meeting to rule on an amended proposal, which, if successful, would increase the number of screens originally agreed, developers Lingfield plc offered £75,000 to The Station trustees, to be paid ‘if the planning authority granted permission.’
Permission for a five screen cinema at the town centre development was granted by Richmondshire District Council last May.
Despite concerns over the obvious pressure this new provision would create, operators of The Station Cinema in Richmond did not object to the plans, accepting the need for competition and welcoming the choice it would provide for local people. However, developers, Lingfield plc, amended their plan and asked for permission to build a seven screen cinema with increased capacity of 30% to their original scheme.
This proposal was rejected at a planning committee meeting on 4 March. However, Leader of Richmondshire District Council, John Blackie, suggested giving the developers a month to return with a revised proposal, which meant that the refusal decision was effectively deferred.
Following this, The Station trustees convened a special meeting to discuss Lingfield’s offer.
“Whilst the amount of money seems attractive, and we have a responsibility to look after the financial well-being of The Station, we cannot allow a donor to wield influence or offset their offer of a donation against a planning committee decision,” says Ian Hepworth, Deputy Chairman of The Station’s Board of Trustees. “Whilst the developer has not specifically asked us to withdraw our opposition, it is implicit in what they have offered, and The Board just could not sanction that action.”
It is understood that the developer is asserting that without the seven screen cinema, the whole development plan may collapse. The Station also understands that The Ministry of Defence are satisfied with five-screen provision already agreed for the site and have not been pressurising the developer to increase the scheme to seven screens.
“It seems strange that the future success or failure of the Catterick Garrison town centre redevelopment rests on whether or not an additional two cinema screens are allowed,” adds Mr Hepworth. “It is also somewhat disconcerting to find out that the vote of the planning committee is not enough to put a stop to the process. We certainly don’t want to see the overall development fail, and can understand that the district council is keen to see progress as part of the business development of the district. So, we must return to committee on Tuesday to see what the developers will propose next, and whether or not that is acceptable to the planning committee.”
Department of Communities and Local Government planning guidance regarding the granting of permission for new town centre cinemas states, “When assessing the impact of proposed new facilities, the extent to which proposals are likely to affect established destinations within existing centres will be a key consideration.”
In a further significant development, the director of The Station Cinema, Rob Younger, has written to the company responsible for building the Catterick Garrison Town Centre complex and stated that if the tenant that they have lined-up to operate the seven screen cinema backs out, Mr Younger's company would be prepared to work with Lingfield plc to provide a facility that would properly fill the gap.
"Had we intended to try and scupper the idea for a Catterick Garrison cinema, we would have objected to the proposal last year but we didn't," said Mr Younger. "It's the idea of a seven screen facility that we believe to be both predatory and commercially reckless."
Lingfield have not acknowledged The Station Cinema's offer.
The next meeting of Richmondshire District Council’s planning committee is on Tuesday 1 April at 6:30 pm at Mercury House. The public are invited to attend.