Published: 18:01, 26 January 2016
After months of negotiation, the operator of Sittingbourne's planned multi-screen cinema has been revealed.
The Light Cinema Experience has signed terms with Swale council to run the complex planned for land currently used as the Forum shopping centre's car park.
The company operates three cinemas - one on Merseyside and two in Cambridgeshire.
Welcoming the news, council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) said: “This deal will bring one of the most innovative cinema operators in the country to Sittingbourne.
"Light Cinemas offers something different from other chains and the decision to make this their first investment in Kent shows their faith in our plans for the regeneration.
"It gives us a cinema operator committed to working with the community to provide the high-quality entertainment local people want.”
Light Cinemas' chief executive Keith Pullinger said: “We are delighted to be part of this important town-centre initiative and we look forward to working with Swale council and U+I to deliver this eight-screen cinema.
"The Light has a commitment to working with local communities to ensure the cinema is seen as a valuable amenity in the town.”
Current plans anticipate construction of the 24,000sq ft cinema will start in October with completion set for early 2018.
It was initially hoped work would begin this spring with the facility opening its doors in summer next year.
The deal has been agreed with the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium, which is behind the two-stage town centre regeneration. It is made up of Swale council, U+I, Quinn Estates and Essential Land.
The Light plans to open two more cinemas early this year in Bolton and Walsall as part of major regeneration plans in the towns. By 2018, it intends to have 14 nationwide.
Richard Upton, deputy chief executive of U+I, said: “This deal demonstrates our commitment to the regeneration of Sittingbourne and will create a real social hub for the community once completed.
"We anticipate this landmark deal will have a positive knock-on effect in attracting other interesting and exciting businesses to both the scheme and the town centre area.”
Mark Quinn, MD of Quinn Estates said: “This is a pivotal moment for Sittingbourne and Swale. We are really excited to be part of this regeneration project and believe getting The Light as an occupier is a real boon for the area that will transform Sittingbourne’s town centre.
"I feel that with the dedication and hard work of the Spirit of Sittingbourne team, we can deliver the benefits that this town needs and deserves.”
The deal was initially agreed in September, but it has taken this long for the finer details and agreements to be finalised.
Planning permission for the ambitious scheme was granted last March and negotiations have been ongoing since.
The cinema is the key part of the regeneration's £57 million first phase and will be joined by six eateries, shops and apartments.
It is not yet known which other businesses will join the cinema, but there has been lots of speculation about Nandos, Next, Prezzo and Pizza Express.
This first stage of the regeneration will also see work begin on road re-alignment and a 308-space multi-storey car park being built off St Michael's Road.
Once completed, there will be 215 apartments, 25,000sq ft of restaurant space, 30,000sq ft of large format retail, a new public square and a range of road improvements.
The second phase, which is yet to be approved, will see a "civic quarter" built in nearby Central Avenue with a new home for Swale council being constructed.
The development aims to revitalise the town centre, providing a catalyst for economic growth and further investment and creating more than 700 jobs.
To celebrate the announcement, No. 34 - a new business and creative space on Sittingbourne High Street and home to the Spirit of Sittingbourne community hub - will be giving away free popcorn all week.
It will also be hosting a film event on Saturday to mark the occasion, with an award-winning documentary by 51zero being shown from 2pm to 4pm. Follow @IdeasTest for more details and updates.