Councillors have agreed to increase the amount of money Daventry District Council is spending on its town centre cinema proposals, after the costs went up by £4million.
Problems with the groundworks mean that the price of the project has risen from £8.2million to £12.3million, while costs in relocating the library from its current premises at Mulberry Place - where the cinema would be built - to a refurbished Abbey Resource Centre have also spiralled from £700,000 to £1.5million.
Elected members decided to back the project, despite fears from some councillors that the authority is ‘overcommitting’ itself financially to both this project and agreed funding of £1.5million for the new Reach for Health premises that was agreed at the same meeting.
But portfolio holder for regeneration, Councillor David James, said that if the money wasn’t spent on this project, it would likely be swallowed up by the proposed unitary authority expected to replace it in 2020.
He said: “People want this development and its something we have had in mind for a long time. We originally estimated a ballpark figure of £8.2million, and that was a figure taken out of the air without costings.
“We want to get this concluded as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we will get planning permission by February, we may even get it to a planning committee by January. That would allow us to get a contract in March and work could start in June for completion by next August.
“If we don’t spend money on this project we will probably lose it, and I would rather it was spent in Daventry than on the regeneration of Northampton.”
Council leader Chris Millar admitted later on in the night that the council was ‘pushing the line a bit’ on its finances, but said: “I think this is a very popular move and has been well received. This would be a smaller three to four screen cinema, and the smaller ones tend to do very well and can make a profit much easier. It’s a very good cause for the future of Daventry.”
But a number of concerns were expressed over the viability of the project, particularly as no operator was yet in place for the cinema.
Conservative councillor and portfolio holder for finance, Colin Morgan, asked Councillor James if he could ‘guarantee that the scheme will be viable in the long run and not leave taxpayers at risk’.
Labour’s Councillor Stephen Dabbs added: “I’m conflicted on this because I’m concerned about the cost rise but I think the scheme is a good idea.
“I just wonder what danger there is of the costs creeping up further? I can’t help but feel that, along with Reach for Health, this council is about to over commit. We perhaps should not have spent money on repairing bridges that we didn’t own.”
And fellow Labour councillor Wendy Randall argued that ‘we could spend all this money and have an empty building’.
But Councillor James responded: “There’s no guarantee on the success of anything. We have had ten initial operators come forward and we are seriously considering three or four of them. There’s always an element of risk attached but to have ten operators at this very early stage is positive.”