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£50m West Central cinema and restaurant scheme gets go-ahead
A SHOCK U-turn has resulted in a £50m cinema and restaurant scheme being given the go-ahead – despite Bournemouth council’s best efforts to block it.
The council reluctantly backed down in its opposition to the West Central scheme planned for the former bus station site at Exeter Road, after being warned it was likely to lose the battle and end up with a massive legal bill.
The developer Licet said it was delighted with the decision and would start building the five-level entertainment complex, housing a multiplex cinema, family restaurants and bistros, next year. It claims the project could create 300 jobs.
Chris Dymond, director of Licet Holdings Ltd, said that lettings for eight key units were all either under offer or in final detailed negotiations.
A number of occupiers would be new to Bournemouth, he added.
“The important operators have been behind us all the way and now the revised design has been sanctioned, the paperwork can be finalised and the momentum is snowballing,” he said.
“After all this time it will be great to get started and to bring a new all-weather family facility to the town centre.”
The council’s U-turn is the latest twist in a long-running saga, which began when the West Central scheme was first granted planning permission in 2007.
Bournemouth council also originally agreed to sell the developer Licet a small strip of land necessary for the scheme – but earlier this year the council changed its mind and said it wanted to see a bus station built on the prime site instead.
It formally refused Licet’s £300,000 offer for the land and council leader John Beesley stated publicly that this effectively killed off the West Central scheme.
However, Licet refused to go away, opting instead to amend its plans to exclude the council’s land. This amended planning application was due to go to appeal but on Monday night, councillors were warned they had no real grounds to oppose Licet.
The council’s planning board was told a government inspector had examined the council’s Town Centre Area Action Plan, which the council was relying on to refuse the Licet application, and made several key changes. In particular, the inspector recommended removing the requirement for any development at Exeter Road to include a bus station.
“Failing to take proper account of the Inspector’s proposed modifications... is likely to be viewed as unreasonable behaviour on the council’s part by an appeal inspector, potentially leading to an award of costs against the council,” officers warned.
“Bearing in mind that the appeal is to be dealt with at a public inquiry which is likely to be scheduled to last for several days and involve the instruction of expert witnesses and legal advice and representation, these costs are likely to be substantial.”
Blow to similar schemes
THE decision is great news for Licet – but is a blow for two other developers seeking to build similar leisure complexes in the town centre.
In approving its amended planning application, councillors have handed Licet a massive advantage in Bournemouth’s ongoing “cinema wars”.
Competing against Licet to be the first to build a new cinema multiplex in Bournemouth is Trevor Osborne, who hopes to build a cinema and restaurant complex next to the Pavilion Theatre, and a private pension fund, which is seeking to build a £100m cinema, flats, restaurants, hotel and supermarket scheme on the Winter Gardens.
While Bournemouth could potentially sustain two multiplex cinemas, it is unlikely there would be enough demand for three in the town centre.
The Nautilus scheme on Westover Road, pictured, has planning permission and a pre-let agreement with the Odeon cinema but has not yet secured all the tenants it needs to proceed.
The Winter Gardens scheme is at a very early stage, with a planning application submitted but not yet considered.
Nigel Hedges, chair of Bournemouth’s chamber of trade, said: “Anything that increases Bournemouth’s offer and employment opportunities on sterile sites such as open surface car parks is to be celebrated.”