Cineworld could quit Dolphin Square ‘bomb site’

An artist's impression of what the site would look like when developed. Vue Cinemas has since been r

An artist's impression of what the site would look like when developed. Vue Cinemas has since been replaced by Cineworld. - Credit: Archant

WESTON faces being left with a ‘bomb site’ at Dolphin Square, with cinema bosses due to discuss ripping up their contract and walking away, after the project was delayed yet again.

The Mercury can exclusively reveal developer McLaren Life faces having to make back-up plans in case it loses Cineworld, its main attraction, amid further delays to the £50million project.

A cinema has always been planned as a key anchor within the development and Cineworld’s potential exit would leave McLaren Life with a massive unit to fill.

The target start date has been pushed back to late-September and if work has not started by then, Cineworld can pull out – despite only replacing Vue Cinemas last autumn.

Considering Dolphin Square was originally due to open in spring 2013, and the start date has been pushed back three times already in 2014, the possibility that Cineworld will get the chance to activate its release clause is a real one.

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When asked to comment on Cineworld’s future, a McLaren Life spokesman said ‘all contracts have a break clause’ and refused to discuss whether the project could survive losing another high-profile chain.

Conflicting reports suggest restaurant chain Real China has recently quit, joining the likes of Harvester, Vue Cinemas and Anytime Fitness in cancelling deals with McLaren Life.

No retailers have committed to the project either but it is the revelation that Cineworld has a release clause which is potentially most damaging for the scheme’s viability.

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Cllr Mike Bell, leader of the Liberal Democrat group inside North Somerset Council, last week met McLaren Life director, Alastair Bell, where he was told Real China had pulled out – although the developer denied that when quizzed yesterday (Wed).

McLaren Life claims Pizza Express, Prezzo and Nando’s are still committed as are the gym and bowling operators.

Cllr Bell said the public and nearby businesses deserved to know the truth.

He said: “It seems to me that nothing has happened. I think it’s fair to say the scheme seems to have gone backwards.

“He said the reason September is McLaren Life’s target date is because that is when the deal with Cineworld lapses.”

Cllr Bell called on McLaren Life to be more open because Weston has attracted a number of ambitious planning proposals in recent years that have amounted to nothing, and people are understandably sceptical.

He added: “It’s incredibly frustrating we don’t know what to believe and I want this project to succeed. I don’t want it to be a disaster.

“But this situation is just outrageous and it’s not good enough. McLaren Life has to be honest.

“If there’s going to be further delays, it has to say what it is going to do to help nearby businesses.

“They are losing out because we have a bomb site over the summer season again and it’s unfortunate.”

Dolphin Square’s delays have had a devastating impact on trade with business owners repeating their calls to North Somerset Council for better signage in the area. The authority has agreed to look into the possibility.

Pam Bytheway, whose family set up The Market Place in St James Street, said: “It is shameful enough that those living, working and trading in Dolphin Square lost their livelihoods, but the local authority continues to lose revenue from the area.

“Development of Oxford Street, and pedestrianising St James Street could change that and at least give the area a chance to recover and thrive and encourage new traders into the many boarded up premises that surround us.”

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