A council has been asked if it has a ‘Plan B’ over the £9.6m Regent cinema which has stood empty for a number of months.

Councillor Carl Quartermain suggested Redcar and Cleveland Council had overreached itself with the final commissioned design, which contains large three screens.

The former Labour group leader said no members of the public had asked for a multi-screen facility in a consultation that was carried out before the build.

Cllr Quartermain, a Coatham ward councillor, also claimed advice had been given not to build the cinema this way, since there were factors that would make it unviable, but these were “ignored” by the ruling administration.

At a full meeting of the council, Cllr Quartermain asked when the Regent would open and what had been the delay.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The £9.6m project, which is being funded by the Tees Valley Combined Authority, has seen the demolition of the old picture houseThe £9.6m project, which is being funded by the Tees Valley Combined Authority, has seen the demolition of the old picture house

The cabinet member for economic development, Councillor Christopher Gallacher said the project was still on track and repeated previous messages put out by the local authority that it was continuing to talk to an unnamed national firm about operating the cinema.

Cllr Quartermain said he had received “multiple suggestions and kind offers” from local business owners and residents keen to see the cinema open, even if under temporary arrangements.

He asked: “Does the independent administration now regret not listening to what the public wanted?

“And is there a ‘Plan B’, and if so for how long will the building remain empty before it is enacted?”
Cllr Quartermain added he would keep asking for details and a timeline from the council, and was “waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers”.
He said: “What everyone wants is to see it being opened and thriving as soon as possible.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Councillor Alec Brown, Cllr Quartermain’s successor as Labour group leader, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the addition of a restaurant and bar meant an operator was effectively running three different types of businesses.

He said: “This is making it so much more difficult.

“The Cineworlds and these sorts of places don’t run restaurants and don’t really run full-fledged bars either, although you can get a hotdog and a Fanta for ten quid.”

Cllr Brown predicted the council may end up taking over the operation of the cinema.

He also said from a political point of view, his party could be seen to be benefiting from the cinema being empty, but “as a resident of the town and somebody who used to take his child there every Saturday because it didn’t cost a fortune, it’s sad”.

Cllr Brown added: “If we [Labour] were to regain the council, I’d be worried about us having a huge liability on the books as I think the only ‘Plan B’ is for the council to run it.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The cinema saga recently led to the departure of Councillor Billy Wells from the Cleveland independent group – which forms one half of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats – after he was criticised for a Facebook post that named council officers and suggested they were stymying requests for information from members.

Cllr Wells subsequently left the group after triggering a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the group, which he lost.

In an internal letter to Cllr Wells, which advised him he could no longer meet with council officers below director level after concerns about his conduct, council managing director John Sampson, who is meant to be non-political, said: “Unfortunately, the Facebook post will infer to some that the four named staff are personally to blame for the delay in the Regent opening and makes no recognition of the fact that this was a council decision – of which your group forms part of the ruling administration – to proceed with construction of this design of cinema, in the context of a pandemic, which has caused procurement difficulties.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cllr Quatermain and Alec BrownCllr Quatermain and Alec Brown

The ‘art deco-style’ new cinema, which features a bar with sea views and a public events space, replaced the old Regent which was declared unsafe due to its deteriorating structure and closed in 2018, later being demolished.

The seafront facility, funded by the Tees Valley Combined Authority at a cost of £9.6m, was handed over to Redcar and Cleveland Council earlier this year with a view to it opening over the spring/early summer.