Supporters of a scheme to build a Cineworld multiplex on Trowbridge’s former Bowyers site came out in force for a planning appeal today.
The hearing, taking place at Trowbridge Civic Centre, sees developer Prorsus appealing against Wiltshire Council’s decision, in June 2012, to reject plans for an eight-screen cinema, a Morrisons store, six restaurants and a pub to be built on the derelict site.
The venue’s council chamber welcomed 68 members of the public, many of whom hope planning inspector David Nicholson allows the £46 million project to go ahead.
Paul Tucker QC, representing the developer, said: “The level of support, here today, shows that it (the cinema scheme) is considered to be a good thing and will allow Wiltshire’s county town to punch at its weight.”
In February 2013, the developer saw plans for a ‘reserve’ application – which substituted the cinema for an unspecified leisure facility and added a petrol station – accepted by the council.
Despite this, the company has decided to pursue their earlier plans.
Stephen Sauvain QC asked Mr Nicholson not to overturn the council’s rejection as the authority believe it will have a negative impact on the recently opened £17m St Stephens Place Leisure Park which homes a seven-screen cinema and restaurants.
He said: “St Stephens Place is well located to strengthen the town centre, however it can only contribute if it operates successfully and if it doesn’t it cannot act as an anchor.
"The introduction of a new cinema has the potential to put that at risk and at worse this scheme could cause St Stephens Place to fail – wasting investment.”
Gillian Jones, a town planner with Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, gave evidence supporting Mr Sauvain’s claim, suggesting that Odeon could lose up to £2.6m of a potential £3.6m turnover if a Cineworld was built on the Bowyers site.
She said that Trowbridge’s potential catchment area was 164,074 people, within a 20-minute drive, and using national average cinema admission figures the town would only require the maximum of 10 screens as opposed to the 15 it would have with both cinemas.
Mrs Jones said: “This clearly demonstrates that there will be an adverse affect on St Stephens Place to such a level that Odeon could close and the failure of the cinema would affect retail there, making it a realistic threat that the site could become a white elephant and damage the vitality of the town.”
Robert Walton QC, representing Legal & General, developer of St Stephens Place, also raised concerns about the viability of two cinemas in Trowbridge.
After the Bowyers cinema plan was rejected, in 2012, around 400 residents staged a protest march against Wiltshire Council’s decision, from Bowyers to County Hall.
Video footage of the march is expected to be shown during the planning appeal, which is scheduled to run for four days, while interested parties will be able voice their opinion on the plans for Bowyers when Mr Nicholson will hear public statements at the Civic Centre from 10am tomorrow.
The inquiry continues.