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Old River Lane: Survey suggests 'very little support' for Bishop's Stortford cinema plans

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The cross-party Old River Lane working group claims there is "very little support" for East Herts Council to build a multiplex in Bishop's Stortford's Causeway.

Later on Thursday (Mar 18) the authority will present its business case for the whole cultural quarter planned to revitalise the town centre.

Initially, East Herts, in partnership with the town council, planned a £30m arts centre with a 544-seat theatre auditorium at the heart of the retail, restaurant and residential development.

Aerial view of the Old River Lane scheme site
Aerial view of the Old River Lane scheme site

But EHC's Conservative administration now contends that the coronavirus crisis and changes to Government lending rules for local authorities mean the council can no longer afford the auditorium. Instead, it is proposing a £15.5m scheme centred on five cinema screens.

The ORL working group is lobbying for the entire scheme to be replaced with a further education college and launched an online survey to canvas residents.

A spokesman has revealed the results and said: "In summary, it is clear that there is very little support for a cinema on ORL. The proposal to have a venue for lifetime education in a repurposed Charringtons House was supported by a large majority of those asked."

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party members united in opposition to Old River Lane
Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party members united in opposition to Old River Lane

The group asked three key questions:

1. Do you agree with the council's proposal to build a five-screen cinema on the Old River Lane site in Bishop's Stortford?

The answers were: No = 85.42% (205) Yes = 8.33% (20) Don't know = 6.25% (15).

The spokesman said: "One hundred and fourteen respondents offered additional comments to this question, none of which came from the cinema's supporters."

The most common views were:

  • Stortford already has a cinema;
  • Cinemas will be made increasingly redundant by streaming, while others pointed to the little-used cinema in the Anchor Street leisure complex;
  • Retailers at ORL would compete with existing retail outlets in the town centre; many outlets were already empty.

2. Do you support the alternative proposal to retain Charringtons House and use it for mixed retail, commercial and educational purposes?

Yes = 62.08% (149) Don't know = 22.50% (54) No = 15.42% (37).

Ninety-four respondents offered additional comments. With the most commonly held views first, these were:

  • A college would be good for the education and economy of the town;
  • Repurposing Charringtons House would be more in keeping with sustainability than demolition;
  • A theatre would be preferable to either a cinema or a college;
  • There will be much less demand for more retail space given the pandemic accelerated use of internet shopping.

3. If a college were to be established on the ORL site what subjects, courses, qualifications should be offered, and to what age groups?

There were 80 comments, with the most common views being:

  • Three times as many supported lifetime learning (teens, working age and retired) as wanted a teens and twenties only college;
  • Vocational training was mentioned more often than learning for personal development and IT, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and coding were cited almost twice as often as building or motor trades.

Residents can watch the East Herts Council cabinet answer questions about the ORL arts centre plans from residents and members from 4pm today before the business case is presented. Press and public will then be excluded while the council discusses commercially sensitive details of the plans.

See https://www.eastherts.gov.uk/councillors-committees/live-meetings-online for the live stream.

READ ALSO East Herts Council cuts almost £15m from cost of proposed new cinema-led arts centre in Stortford

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