A DEAL to open a town centre cinema has been given the green light by councillors, as the keys are set to be handed over "in days".

In a “truncated” meeting on Thursday, senior councillors voted to approve a deal between the council and international chain Vue to take over the currently empty cinema in East Square, Basildon.

The deal will see Vue run the cinema for the next 20 years, after a £3 million “sweetener” from the council to help get it up and running after years of delays.

Craig Rimmer, councillor responsible for tourism and economic stimulus, hailed the deal as “huge for Basildon”.

He said: “I’m extremely pleased about this news.

“We should be talking days before Vue takes the keys and start fitting the cinema out.

“It will kick-start our town centre regeneration as a whole.”

Following councillors’ approval, Mr Rimmer hopes it is “just a matter of signing the lease”.

He added: “The board at Vue has already agreed the deal.

“It’s a huge start for Basildon’s regeneration. It will also bring in three additional food and beverage venues.

“That should attract other retailers and services to Basildon.”

While an official opening date is yet to be confirmed, Mr Rimmer is optimistic the cinema could open “in time for the summer”.

He added: “My natural instinct is that they will try to go for the summer blockbusters.

“It’s such a professional outfit, so they will put out their own timetable.”

However, independent councillor Kerry Smith strongly opposes the deal, writing to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and urging him to “delay it until councillors can scrutinise it”.

He said: “I’m just hoping and praying Michael Gove will finally take action to block the deal until it can be independently verified.

“It looks to be a terrible deal which runs the risk of bankrupting the council, at the cost of the taxpayer.”

Thursday’s meeting was “truncated”, following the announcement that Basildon’s mayor, Luke Mackenzie, had tragically lost his battle with cancer.

Mr Rimmer added: “We ummed’ and ahed’ about whether we should have the meeting, but we have to do time-critical things.”