No cinema start in sight as sale and cable investigations stall development

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 26 Oct 2018

Grimsby’s multi-screen cinema development appears to have stalled before construction has even begun, with the surprise sale of Freshney Place shopping centre potentially pausing progress.

And speculation is mounting that there is another twist in the plot – or below it – the possibility of a construction-hindering cable find underneath the Riverhead site. 

The £18 million development is set to feature nine screens and a restaurant complex, and is being brought forward by Freshney Place, having worked in partnership with North East Lincolnshire Council.

When finalised in March, with Cineworld announced as the operator, work was to start within the next six months. 

But that initial timeline has expired, without any ground being broken.

The original schedule was a 20 month construction project, transforming the town centre site, with summer 2020 envisaged as a potential box office opening. It was heralded as the start of wider development, as the Grimsby Town Deal also emerged. 

It came with the promise of several national brand eateries, providing a huge boost to what has been a stuttering evening economy.

But with the centre now on the market, and the only deal in place with the cinema operator, work starting on the development without lease agreements for the remaining space is a major doubt – as it would mean a gamble on future income for a new owner. 

Capreon has remained tight-lipped since last week’s revelation it is looking to offload Freshney Place, with no response to specific questions on whether it would develop ahead of a sale, the speculation about cabling issues, and whether the development hinges on restaurant buy-in.

A spokesperson for Capreon simply confirmed that “the proposed leisure development programme involves a number of independent workstreams that are continuing to be undertaken in parallel, along with the proposed sale”.

Cineworld has also declined to comment on any changes to the development timeframe. 

On the cabling, no official approach appears to have been made to the likely owner – BT – with the town’s main exchange just a few hundred yards away. In May investigation works were starting “within weeks” and it is understood this is what has brought it forward, with those involved neither confirming or denying such a presence. 

Sources claim the what lies beneath the Riverhead site has required further investigation, with the possibility of an expensive re-routing of critical communications cabling being explored. 

A spokesperson for Openreach, the BT spin-off that manages infrastructure, said: “We have a huge network across the UK, 165 million kilometres in length, serving almost 32 million customers. “We do have substantial infrastructure in the DN31 postcode area, but without being familiar with the detailed plans for Grimsby Riverhead, it’s impossible to comment. As is always the case, we’re keen to hear from developers early on in their process, so we can work together around any existing and planned infrastructure.”

The land was signed over in 2014 to then centre owner, F&C Reit, with Capreon itself spinning out of that, following an acquisition by global property firm BMO.

A spokesperson for North East Lincolnshire Council said: “As is normal procedure, the developers deal with utilities matters. As key development lead, Capreon will be following these procedures and will deal with relevant matters as they arise.”

Lead councillor on regeneration, Peter Wheatley, has described the uncertainty ahead for Grimsby’s cinema and restaurant site as a “concern”, amid more bad news for the high street nationally.

Debenhams yesterday announced it will close 50 stores as it seeks to turn around record losses of almost £500 million.

Asked about the likely delay with Freshney Place now up for sale, Cllr Wheatley, portfolio holder for regeneration, housing, skills and assets with North East Lincolnshire Council, said: “With what Capreon is doing now, it is a concern, because of the way all retail is being hit hard.

“We’ve just seen what’s happening with Debenhams, and that’s one of those ‘gold-plated’ retailers you always felt was completely protected against such a situation.”

The local authority agreed the deal to transfer the land to shopping centre owner in 2014, having reconfigured the town centre’s public transport to make way for the scheme.

“We have done everything we can to support growth in this area to ensure this area is, A, open for business, and, B, ready for new investment,” he said. “There has been a tremendous effort, and we cannot deflect from the path we have taken. 

“We have invested an enormous amount of time, innovation and money in to many of these projects, and I think next year we will be able to say this is the start of really big things. 

“If we get the Garth Lane site (higher education provision as previously reported), with student accommodation on, I think that will help to regenerate some of the centre of the town. We have know got Engie in there too (having moved from Europarc to New Oxford House on Osborne Street), we are trying to create more footfall, that’s what they need. 

“Regeneration is a long term project, it is not a quick fix, not an overnight hit. Our long term plan is starting to come to fruition. I think by the early 2020s we will see, hopefully, what has happened, what has been in the plan, and be known as a really good prosperous area.”

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