Cinema decision delayed

December 17, 2008 9:23 AM
By Rhiannon Clarke in Brentwood Gazette
William Hunter Way - artist's impression

William Hunter Way - artist's impression

PLANS to build a cinema, shopping complex and new homes on William Hunter Way have been sensationally shelved until next year to give councillors more time to consider.

More than 50 residents packed the town hall on Wednesday expecting to see the final showdown on the controversial development, only for council leader Brandon Lewis to defer the decision after a debate which lasted more than two hours.

Speaking at the end of the discussion, Cllr Lewis said: "There are clearly issues members have got and when we are deciding something of this magnitude, members should be clear, one way or the other.

"I think it's wrong to ask members to make a decision when they clearly have got questions."

The move was unanimously agreed by council members and has also been welcomed by most residents.

Speaking after the meeting, the Conservative leader - who said he still believed the development was "the right thing for Brentwood" - said: "I have to do what is right for the council and for our borough and the extended period, to ensure that everyone is confident about a decision either way, is appropriate.

"This is a decision about the long-term future of our town centre and should not be taken lightly, or for political expedience."

The plans will now be subject to two meetings at the beginning of next year, one where councillors will be able to quiz developers, and a stakeholder meeting where residents will be given the opportunity to air their views.

The proposals will then be sent back to the council's planning committee before returning to a full council meeting.

Officers are currently working on a timeline for these meetings.

Lib Dem leader Cllr David Kendall - whose party opposed the plans at the meeting - welcomed the chance for more consultation with stakeholders.

He also called for a borough-wide consultation "so all our residents are made fully aware of the size, scale and mass of what is being proposed".

"It seemed many members of the Conservative group shared our deep reservations about the size and scale of this planning application, so the leader had little choice but to change his mind and defer the matter to further discussion in the new year," he said.

"Now, all interested parties have been given more time to consider their positions and seek clarification on key points.

"Whilst some residents will be frustrated by the further delay, they have to accept that what is finally built on the site will have a great impact on our town for years to come, so it's vital we take the time now to get it right."

Labour leader Mike Le-Surf branded the "change of heart" a "victory for local residents".

"The opposition parties were clear about their reasons for refusal and it was interesting to see so many Conservative councillors with last-minute questions for officers that could have been answered prior to the meeting," he said.

"I would personally like to see a return to the drawing board and a new planning brief drawn up that is open to tender, encouraging diversity and competition that will benefit local people."