Green light for two cinema-led developments in Peterborough

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Two multi-million pound developments, both anchored by cinemas, have been given the green light for Peterborough this afternoon, Tuesday.

A £100 million regeneration of North Westgate has been unanimously approved by members of Peterborough City Council’s planning committee.

The development, proposed by Hawksworth Securities, involves the creation of an eight-screen cinema complex, a new public square around Westgate Church plus homes, a food hall, offices, shops and restaurants.

The aim is to create a regional leisure centre to regenerate the area and attract more people to the city centre.

It will also involve the creation of 120 new one, two and three-bedroom city apartments, some with rooftop gardens, plus a 100-room hotel.

Its approval came just minutes after committee members had approved a £30 million plan for a revamp of the neighbouring Queensgate shopping centre, which will also include a multi-screen cinema run by Odeon.

But Hawkesworth Securities had warned that approval for a cinema in Queensgate would leave their venture not viable and so a rare chance to carry out a long-awaited regeneration of the area would be lost.

The Queensgate plans were submitted by centre owners Invesco and its managers Lendlease.

The development will also involve the creation of a series of new shops and a restaurant hub.

The 77,000 sq ft extension will be carried out in partnership with John Lewis, which will be releasing its under used storage space to create a refurbished offering.

Next has agreed to move into one of the new stores, which will allow it to expand. In addition, a number of well-known restaurants have confirmed their preference for the extension.

Approximately 200 jobs will be created once the extension is complete, adding ten per cent to the total number of people employed by Queensgate.

Commenting on the outcome of the planning meeting, Guy Thomas, head of retail asset management at Lendlease, said: “The decision to grant consent to both the extension of Queensgate and North Westgate is the right one for Peterborough, bringing further investment, jobs and long-term prosperity to the city.

“Preparatory works for the addition of the Odeon cinema, new restaurant hub, additional retail units, and the significantly enhanced John Lewis at Queensgate will begin almost immediately, with construction starting in late January next year.

“It is also great news for Peterborough that North Westgate can progress and we are supporters of development of the site.”

Peter Breach, chairman of Hawksworth Securities, said: “We are pleased to have received a planning consent for our proposals to regenerate North Westgate.

“It is an exciting project that would bring benefits to Peterborough, its people and its communities.

“But as we have always said there is only room for one cinema in Peterborough city centre and with a planning consent for a cinema in Queensgate, we have to think carefully about what we do next and the commercial viability of our scheme.

“Without a cinema to anchor the scheme, we have no other options on the table.”

Addressing the committee today (Tuesday, September 29) were councillors Mohammed Jamil and Nazim Khan for the wards where both applications were planned.

Cllr Jamil called North Westgate an eyesore and said: “It’s really painful for both of us to be here but we favour the scheme for the North Westgate development. It’s something my ward’s been calling for for many years.

“When we get something from North Westgate something comes forward from Queensgate and North Westgate dies a death.

“If it does not happen now it probably does not happen for another decade. Queensgate can survive without a cinema but North Westgate will not.

“I want people to live in the city centre and I just feel this will be a lost opportunity and a loss of housing that the city needs desperately.

Cllr Khan added: “Every time that somebody comes up with that sort of scheme Queensgate come up with a plan and councillors get a bit scared that if we do not approve it then we will lose business.

“Queensgate has been in the city since the 80s. I’m very disappointed that they do not look outside their box.

“Have some backbone and tell Queensgate to redesign its plan and take the cinema out.”

Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson was also backing the North Westgate development, calling it a “once in a generation opportunity.”

He said: “I agree that it’s important that this application - very reluctantly and with a heavy heart - should be rejected.

“A gym, cinema and restaurant units will drive regeneration and give my constituents jobs.

“I would ask the committee respectfully to give Queensgate the chance to come back with a new application and back North Westgate.”

David Turnock of the Peterborough Civic Society said: “We think the cinema would have quite a dramatic impact. It’s too high and too bulky.”

Hereward Phillpot QC, of Francis Taylor Building, was speaking on behalf of North Westgate’s developers. He told councillors that approving the Queensgate development would throw away an opportunity with substantial benefits.

He added that if councillors favour the Queensgate scheme then they should defer a decision before analysing both schemes today.

Paddy Bingham of Queensgate owners Invesco said: “We have a window of opportunity now to undertake this development, This proposal is important for the long-term future of the shopping centre.”

He said backing the Queensgate development would stop the leakage of shoppers to places such as Leicester and Cambridge.

Councillors on the committee were only meant to debate the Queensgate application first, but despite repeated advice from council officers some discussed North Westgate as well.

Cllr Peter Hiller said: “In my own mind the Queensgate centre is a jewel in the city centre, The application the Queensgate owners have put forward would significantly enhance the city centre offering, I’m struggling to find a reason to go against officers on this application.”

Cllr Ann Sylvester said: “Opposition to Queensgate has been very validly and eloquently put. I do not want the other application to be lost.”

Cllr Nabil Shabbir said: “I remember sitting in school in year eight being told by my teacher that North Westgate is going to be developed. In light of that I would not be able to support the Queensgate application.”

Cllr David Harrington said: “We need to consolidate what we have. I cannot see a viable reason in my mind why we should reject this application.”

Cllr John Okonkowski said: “I have seen Peterborough grow on the back of Queensgate as a retail place. I’m thinking about North Westgate and I would put the cinema there.”

Cllr Lucia Serluca said: “This application is not about a cinema but extending Queensgate. We have to be absolutely clear to take the emotion out.”

Cllrs Sylvester and Okonkowski were the only two councillors to vote against accepting the Queensgate development.

Councillors were later positive on the North Westgate development and unanimously gave it their approval.

But addressing the committee was agent Richard Astle of Athene Communications who said: “I came to the city in 1997 and it was being talked about then. It’s still being talked about now.

“People always ask when it’s going to happen.

“This scheme is long awaited and very good. Let everybody be in no doubt that this project is ready to go. This is a once in a generation project but without a cinema this scheme does not go ahead. That’s what makes it work commercially.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Jackson said: “I’m exceptionally disappointed by the decision [to approve Queensgate’s application]. I thought there was a strong case by an experienced barrister to reject the application and put in a new one.

“My fear is that the very positive proposals for a more sustainable project in North Westgate - including housing, new retail and a hotel - may very well now fail because Queensgate will develop a cinema first.

“It’s a once a in generation opportunity and I think the planning committee should think very long and hard about why they have taken the decision they did because this opportunity may not come around again soon.”

Cllr Jamil added: “I am extremely disappointed that Queensgate once again dictated what happened in the city centre and have not looked beyond their own boundaries.

“As for the future of the North Westgate development I do not know. Hopefully Hawksworth will not walk away but my fear is we will not get anything on the site for another 10 years.”