An 'impartial' report author for new Greyfriars scheme was too 'difficult' to find claims planning chief
A cabinet member's defence of a "biased" report supporting the need for a new cinema in Northampton has been rubbished by the owners of Sol Central.
Last month the Chronicle and Echo revealed Conservative cabinet members on Northampton Borough Council approved proposals to place a cinema on the Greyfriars site based on a report written by the owner of Light cinema chain John Sullivan.
That study argued a new cinema would boost movie ticket sales back to "2009 levels" in Northampton - but within a year Mr Sullivan's firm was chosen to operate an eight-screen multiplex at the former bus station site.
It has recently emerged that a separate report by consultants Nathaniel Lichfield contradicted any claim that a cinema is needed. In fact, it claimed trade at Sol Central's Vue and the Sixfields Cineworld would drop by 30 per cent if a new multiplex were to be built at Greyfriars.
This week Councillor Nazim Choudary challenged the borough council's regeneration cabinet member to explain why it commisioned a report that was "not impartial".
In an official response Councillor Tim Hadland (Con, Old Duston) said: "(In) The report commisioned by Northampton Borough Council, the connection between the author and the cinema chain is declared within it in a deliberately transparent manner.
"Given the niche nature of cinema consultancy, it would be difficult to find a firm with the specialist knowledge, which did not have links with one or more cinema chains.
"The report was just a contribution to the assessment of the options."
Sol Central owner Neil Sinclair has rubbished the claim that cinema consultancy is so "niche" - the council could not find an independent consultant to carry out a study.
"This is a bit silly," he said.
"If I was them I wouldn't dream of going to someone for advice may be conflicted.
"If someone said to me we want a cinema consultant, it wouldn't take a long time to find half-a-dozen that were completely impartial."
Mr Sinclair, who says Vue will not expand their cinema at Sol Central while there is still a prospect of a new cinema half-a-mile away, also believes the connection between the report author and the cinema chain was not as "deliberately transparent" as Councillor Hadland suggested.
"I was at that cabinet meeting where the cinema scheme was chosen for Greyfriars," he said.
"There were hardly any questions asked. I'm not sure the cabinet members knew of the potential conflict."