TORIES on Basildon Council have been accused of “farcical’’ behaviour after it emerged the Eastgate Shopping Centre wants to build a cinema about 500 yards from where the Tories plan a movie house.
Last week, the Echo revealed how the centre’s new owner, Infrared, is in advanced talks to build a nine-screen cinema in its top tier.
There are fears this could scupper Tory plans to transform Leisure Square, as the £30million scheme includes restaurants, bars and a nine-screen cinema.
Critics bemoaned an apparent communication breakdown between the council and Infrared.
Byron Taylor, leader of the Labour opposition on the council, said: “It is a farcical situation of the council’s doing.’’ There is already a cinema, the Empire, at Festival Leisure Park.
Mr Taylor said: “To have the possibility of ending up with three cinemas in Basildon is ridiculous. The Tories need to knowwhat is going on with their own town centre and get a hold on things.”
The Tories claimed Infrared’s idea to put a cinema at the top of the centre only come to light recently. It took over the building in a £88.6million deal in January. It is unlikely both schemes would progress as cinema operators would not want to open with a rival within walking distance.
Phil Turner, leader of the Tory administration, distanced himself from progressing the Leisure Square project with a cinema included if Infrared continues with its rival scheme.
Infrared said a planning application could be submitted in the next fewweeks, and that the cinema would cost the taxpayer nothing as Eastgate was privately owned.
Resident and cinema fan Danny Lovey, of Ross Way, Langdon Hills, said: “It is a tough one for the council. On the one hand the centre’s owners have put together a really good proposal, but on the other hand everyone is confused.
“It drives a coach and horses through the council’s plans for Leisure Square, but Infrared only took over the centre fairly recently, so I think it’s unfair to blame anyone.
“Having big businesses prepared to sink money into Basildon is very encouraging.”
According to Infrared, various operators are in talks with the firm over running the cinema, should it be given approval.
If it goes to plan, film fans could have a big screen in Basildon town centre by summer 2016