Labour councillor Stephen Dabbs raised a motion at the latest Daventry District Council meeting on Wednesday (May 15), calling to postpone all further work on the £12.3million project until a suitable operator is appointed.
He also argued that should an operator not be found within the next three months, the project should be cancelled and alternative uses sought for the site.
The approved Mulberry Place plans permit the construction of a new four-screen cinema, an adjacent restaurant building and a new civic square off North Street. The site was home to Daventry Library until its recent relocation to the Abbey Resource Centre in St John’s Square.
Cllr Dabbs said: “I’m generally supportive of the cinema plans, but it is considered to be a risky development with only a marginal chance of a positive financial return.
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“It is of fundamental importance to engage a cinema operator before irreversible commitments to build are made, otherwise we may ensure £12.3m worth of white elephant empty buildings are eventually provided for the residents.
“The council needs a professional operator as a partner to progress the project to its best conclusion. Without such a partner in place, it is entirely reckless to continue to pursue the project.”
But the motion was rejected by the Conservative ruling council, with cabinet member Cllr David James saying that the project was a manifesto commitment by his party at the last election.
He added: “Two serious offers have been received from operators and due diligence is taking place. Work will start on the site at the end of this month with asbestos removal and demolition. An agreement of the operator lease will be completed at the same time as the construction contract is entered into.
“Archaeological fieldwork will follow demolition, and hopefully nothing will be discovered. We anticipate that the cinema would be fitted out in August 2020 and will hopefully be open by February 2021.
“Negotiations are going well and our lawyers are looking at it.”