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Opinion: Can Preston support two major cinema and restaurant developments?

Posted on - 10th April, 2016 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, News, Opinion, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Redevelopment
The Vue scheme and the Markets both include a multi-screen cinema

The Vue scheme and the Markets both include a multi-screen cinema

There’s more than the price of popcorn being puzzled over in Preston city centre at the moment, as two rival schemes are being put together for cinema complexes.

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Although many people think the days of the multiplex cinema has been and gone – for both Preston City Council and the Fishergate Shopping Centre it seems they are a glimpse of the future.

Both schemes are touted as ‘gamechanging’ for the city, with Fishergate saying they have secured £40m of investment to back the move of Vue cinema from the Capitol Centre and into the former TJ Hughes building.

Alongside this there’s a number of restaurant chains lined up – names dropped include Byron Burger and Yo Sushi among others – and a commitment from major retailers such as Primark to revamp their stores at the same time.

Preston City Council has a £50m scheme on the table, which is linked to the rejuvenation of the Markets and following demolition of the indoor market a new 11-screen cinema and restaurant complex. There’s also a new car park planned to replace the crumbling Market Hall one.

Overhead shot of the refurbished covered market at night, with the cinema building behind

Overhead shot of the refurbished covered market at night, with the cinema building behind

But can Preston support two large cinema and restaurant complexes?

An independent report commissioned in 2014 by the city council from dcinex Consulting seems to suggest it could just about be possible – with up to 14 screens and 2,500 seats the maximum to be supported.

The Light cinema group lists 11-screens in its plan for the Markets, and Vue doesn’t specify the number of screens there would be in the Fishergate plan.

The number of restaurant chains doesn’t feel like it will hold back the development. If you look at similar developments in Cardiff, Derby and elsewhere there’s a flood of restaurants in once a few chains go in – Zizzi, Prezzo, TGI Fridays, they swarm like flies round a honeypot.

Preston is an expanding city, and if you take the Central Lancashire region as a whole it has one of the fastest growing populations in the UK. This is what’s giving developers the confidence to bring these kind of schemes forward again. The city is due to rapidly expand to the North and North West with thousands of homes being built – that’s thousands of households all in need of entertainment.

Related: Preston’s cinematic history, where they used to be in our city

Lorraine Norris, chief exec of the city council, wouldn’t be drawn on the Fishergate development during a consultation on the Markets plan – she can’t be seen to comment on something that’s actively going through the planning permission process.

However, her planning officers have already hinted they may suggest rejecting the scheme on a technicality – that the city council’s own plan for the city centre has not yet been signed off by central government.

It will be interesting to see what kind of ambition the councillors on the planning committee show. They know full well a planning application for the Markets and cinema scheme is just weeks away too. Could the Fishergate scheme be derailed by petty points scoring?

Fishergate on the other hand have been bullish. Releasing figures to show how much their development would be worth to the city council.

How the new look Fishergate Centre may look inside

How the new look Fishergate Centre may look inside

The victim in all this? The Odeon. Run down, out the way on the Docks, and with all the focus being on the city centre the opening of both, or even one, of these cinemas could make things tougher for the cinema. A saving grace may be the Preston Western Distributor road which would give easy access to the Docks for the thousands of new homes up near Cottam – a much easier drive than trying to access the city centre.

Preston certainly isn’t booming by any stretch of the imagination, but if it is to live up to its city billing then it surely must see both of these schemes progressed – to boost a major shopping centre with easy public transport links and also endorse a scheme that puts the Markets centre stage, providing them with a long-term future, and gives the entertainment hub alongside it for all-day and nighttime usage.

But it comes down to our elected representatives, and planning officers, who both face the threat of being put in special measures due to delays, wrangling and point-scoring. Do they have the vision, ambition and determination to see Preston have the kind of major developments other cities have? Or will delays and bickering mean the city misses its opportunity once again for the kind of change that may help it weather future economic storms?

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