PLANS for a new four-screen cinema in Newton Abbot will be delayed after councillors decided to hold off on giving an extra £600,000 to the project. 

An application was submitted in June for the cinema in the corner of Market Square, described as the “transformational” part of the town centre’s regeneration.

It was to be funded by using part of a £9.2 million grant from the Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) and would involve building an empty structure which would be handed over to Scott Cinemas to complete the fit-out.

But a report debated in an extraordinary meeting of Teignbridge Council on Tuesday suggested a rise in inflation and extra pressures on costs and budget would need councillors to agree a further £600,000 for the scheme.

In a full council meeting at the Buckland Athletic Football Club, Liberal Democrat member for Kenton and Starcross and leader of the council Alan Connett called for any decision on the extra money to be adjourned until they had more information about the development.

Cllr Connett proposed an amendment asking for external auditors to provide a report on the governance of the Future High Street Fund relating to the proposed new cinema.

He was criticised by some members for bringing the amendment at such short notice, but was backed by Lib Dem councillor for Kenn Valley, Andrew Swain. 

“It is sudden, but there’s quite a lot of things happening very suddenly,” said Cllr Swain.

“I was surprised reading this report to learn that Scotts hadn’t been signed up to the whole deal and still aren’t, for example.

“The extra £600,000 requirement has appeared very suddenly, so I don’t think it’s fair to criticise the amendment for being sudden.”

Others were angry at attempts to delay the project further.  South Devon Alliance councillor for Haytor, Adrian Patch, said the were told almost 12 months ago there could be no further delays and said it didn’t make sense to postpone a decision about the request for extra money.

“What is this?” asked Cllr Swain. “Is this is this a simple failure of leadership, of vision?

“Is it incompetence or is it a cynical attempt to get to the stage where this council is presented with a fait accompli? ‘We’re out of time. This is what we’re going to have to do.’”

South Devon Alliance deputy leader and councillor for Ambrook, Richard Daws, was disappointed at not being able to make a decision and said he had researched the subject in detail. 

“To be told, actually, there is no debate on spending the £600,000 because we’ve decided we want to get somebody else to look at it,” he said.   “I mean, we could have told you that months and months ago.”

Before making a decision on Cllr Connett’s amendment, South Devon Alliance leader and councillor for College, Liam Mullone, proposed an “amendment to the amendment.”

His concern was focussed on the future of cinema as a whole.

“Get some consultation on the state of cinema today because Vue has issued a profits warning,” he said. “Cineworld is going into administration. There is no contract with the small firm of Scotts and their whole business plan seems to be to say, ‘I know we’re only quarter-filling houses now, but if we had four screens we’d fill the whole thing.’”

The two amendments were combined and the council agreed to commission an audit into the project and to engage consultants to look into the night-time economy and assess the viability of the cinema.

No additional money would be paid to the project until the research has been done. 

If the controversial cinema goes ahead, it will involve demolishing some of the modern extension to the Market Hall, along with the buildings currently occupied by New Look, the former Shauls Bakery and the upstairs link to Clarks.

A further decision on the project and additional funding is expected to come to the council by the end of the year.