Work on Preston's £40m cinema and leisure complex due to start next year

A long-planned cinema and leisure development in Preston city centre has moved a step closer after the city council committed tens of millions of pounds in funding for the scheme.

Friday, 20th August 2021, 4:04 am
Updated Friday, 20th August 2021, 4:14 am

The "Animate" project will see the former site of the indoor market and its multi-storey car park transformed into a new recreational facility, featuring an eight-screen cinema, bowling alley, five restaurants and bars and a street-food hub. A new car park and public square will also be created - with the whole lot set for completion by spring 2024.

The plan was first mooted more than five years ago as part of the regeneration of the Markets Quarter of city. It looked like the proposals were set to get off the drawing board last year, but the timeline was delayed by the onset of the pandemic.

However, a meeting of Preston City Council' s full council has now approved the funding needed to make the vision a reality. It will see the authority stump up just over £33m for the development, with around £3.5m coming from Preston's £20.9m allocation from the government's Towns Fund and a further £3.25m from the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal.

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How the new cinema and leisure complex could look on the former site of Preston's now demolished indoor market (image via Preston City Council)

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The scheme will be delivered in partnership with Maple Grove Developments, part of the Eric Wright Group - but the city council will own the buildings and lease them back to the operators of the various ventures. Discussions with potential operators of the cinema and bowling alley are at "an advanced stage", according to town hall bosses - while there is said to be "strong interest" in the restaurant units.

It is estimated that the complex will generate over £7m of extra economic activity each year - and create 125 full time equivalent jobs.

City council leader Matthew Brown said that the development "will breathe life into the city centre and reinforce the Harris Quarter as a premier cultural and leisure destination in Lancashire".

Where the market hall car park used to stand

"It is also an important step in our community wealth building agenda, as this asset will be publicly-owned - meaning the benefits will be enjoyed by everyone in Preston.

"Developments like this show that we remain ambitious in our plans to develop the city centre and bring investment and jobs to the people of Preston, supporting our local economy as we recover from the pandemic. This development will appeal to a range of people in the city and we're very excited it is moving closer to fruition," Cllr Brown added.

The project will require planning permission, within an application set to be made later this year - and a public consultation carried out beforehand. Work is then expected to begin at some point next year.

Last month, the city council gave the go-ahead for a mobile "event tent" to be used on the former market plot for up to 12 months.

The 12-sided structure – created from four shipping containers covered in stretch fabric – will have the capacity to hold up to 100 people and will play host to a rolling schedule of arts and entertainment attractions – including cinema screenings and dance, theatre and music performances.

Andrew Dewhurst, director of Maple Grove Developments, said of the permanent proposals for the site: "We're proud to be working in partnership with Preston City Council and its stakeholders on this exciting development, one that will contribute massively to Preston's goal of creating a thriving, sustainable city centre with an outstanding leisure offer.

"We look forward to taking the development to the next stage and submitting a planning application this autumn."