The authority’s cabinet met today to discuss its contract for the so-called Sands Development with Benchmark Leisure Limited, which expires on December 31, and to look for a new partner to take forward the schemes for the area.
However, before the matter was due to be discussed by councillors they were informed that there had been a last-minute legal challenge.
The authority’s finance director, Nick Edwards, told the meeting: “We have received legal correspondence from solicitors acting on behalf of Benchmark disputing the expiry.
“This correspondence has just been received and, in view of this, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”
Instead, the cabinet “noted” the expiry of the contract and that officers will progress with a new development plan for the area after December 31.
Benchmark has been responsible for the £14 million Alpamare waterpark in North Bay, made possible by a £9 million loan from the council, and has also overseen the building of a pub and Premier Inn hotel on the same site.
However, long-running plan to build a cinema, restaurants and flats on the site of the former Atlantis waterpark nearby has repeatedly stalled since 2017.
Council officers will now undertake a review on the best way forward for the Atlantis and former Mr Marvel’s Amusement Park sites.
The council’s leader, Cllr Steve Siddons, has made no secret of his preference for a cinema located in the town centre, rather than in the North Bay.
A report prepared ahead of the cabinet today stated that when the development agreement expires, Benchmark will keep its existing lease agreements for the sites that have been completed.
It added: “The expiry of the development agreement will not bring to an end Benchmark’s existing leases.
“Those parts of the Sands Development which have already been developed and drawn down by Benchmark will remain with Benchmark.
“The council will therefore have a continuing relationship with Benchmark through its long leases of the Beach Management Centre and chalets, the Marston’s pub and restaurant and hotel phase.
“The council has retained the freehold interest of these developed sites in addition to the Waterpark. The supplemental agreement and thirty-five year lease with Benchmark relating to the [Alpamare] Water Park will also continue.
“On expiry of the development agreement Benchmark’s exclusivity in respect of the undeveloped parts of the Sands Development will lapse.
“Officers will speedily create a new vision and development programme to maximise the opportunity of regeneration development for the remaining sites at North Bay.
“As part of this report it is recommended that officers are authorised to undertake a full assessment of the options available and report back to cabinet.”
Benchmark Leisure Limited has been approached for a comment.