Published: 00:01, 25 September 2015
The multi-million pound regeneration of Sittingbourne town centre has taken a massive step forward with a cinema operator finally signing up.
Planning permission for the ambitious scheme was granted in March and negotiations have been ongoing since.
Although the Spirit of Sittingbourne, the consortium behind the two-phase project, has agreed terms with the cinema company, they’re not revealing who it is yet.
Work will start in the spring on the Forum car park opposite the train station with the seven-screen facility expected to open in the summer of 2017.
The cinema is the key part of the regeneration’s £46 million first phase and will be joined by eateries, shops and apartments.
This first stage will also see work begin on road realignment 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 Spirit of Sittingbourne is made up of the local authority, Cathedral Group, Essential Land and Quinn Estates.
The development aims to revitalise the town centre, providing a catalyst for economic growth and further investment and creating more than 700 jobs.
Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) said: “This is an important step in delivering the regeneration of the town centre that we have all been waiting for.
“The cinema underpins the whole development, so having this agreement is great news, and we look forward to announcing the operator, and the associated retail and restaurants that will be opening in the town, when the final terms are agreed.”
Cathedral Group chief executive Richard Upton said: “The multi-screen cinema will anchor the Spirit of Sittingbourne development.
“It will be a focus of entertainment for residents of all ages and the foundation of a revitalised town centre.
“From family fun to date nights, the cinema will create an active community hub and provide a major boost to Sittingbourne’s night-time economy.”
There was a more lukewarm response from Ukip leader on Swale, Cllr Mike Baldock. “Obviously this is a step forward to get something positive for Sittingbourne, so it’s to be welcomed,” he said.
“My concern would be that this does nothing to regenerate the High Street itself.
"They are saying it will bring 400,000 people a year, but I do not see that people will use the High Street if they are going to use the snack bars at the cinema.
“In the evening, it will have no impact on the High Street with the exception of a couple of pubs.”
Labour’s Roger Truelove said he understood the operator could be a smaller emerging company, rather than a large chain.
He added: “It has to be realised that a Heads of Agreement is not a legal contract, so there will still be a period of time before things actually start happening.
“If it all goes through, it will kick off the regeneration plan, about which I still have considerable misgivings.
“From a wider perspective I do not agree with working with only one developer, leaving large tracts of land in Sittingbourne derelict and not doing enough to regenerate the High Street."
Phoenix Centre manager Sara Seabridge said: “I’m pleased, obviously, as it means it’s finally going to get going. I’ve had so many people asking have I had any news.”
However, she praised Spirit of Sittingbourne for its research and the way it has consulted residents.