Scarborough cinema hopes: Surprise move as Benchmark offers to pay £8m council loan if its deal is extended
Scarborough’s hopes for a North Bay cinema complex could be back on if the developer can pay back more than £8 million to the borough council by next month.
Scarborough Council had intended to let its development agreement for the Sands project in the town’s North Bay with Benchmark expire on December 31, before the company launched a legal challenge.
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 plans to build a cinema, restaurants and flats on the site of the former Atlantis waterpark nearby have repeatedly stalled since 2017.
At the end of last month the company offered to repay outstanding money owed to the authority on the loan it gave Benchmark to build the waterpark, which the council says is currently around £8.5 million, in return for the agreement being extended.
Council leader Cllr Steve Siddons agreed to the request to extend the deal temporarily while it seeks more information from Benchmark.
Cllr Siddons said: “Without concrete evidence of the deliverability of any of the future phases within the existing Sands development agreement, it has always been my administration’s intention to allow the current contract with Benchmark to come to its natural end in December 2020.
“We are grateful that the relationship we have had with Benchmark over the years has delivered a number of schemes which have benefited Scarborough and the wider borough.
“However, the ambitions set at the contract start and many of Scarborough’s aspirations have not been delivered.
“In addition, Benchmark have long term outstanding debts with this council which have not yet been settled.
“We inherited this agreement, it was drawn up, monitored and extended by the previous administration. We felt it was time to chart a new course for the North Bay.”
Cllr Siddons added that the “surprise last-minute bid” by Benchmark to re-open negotiations has seen the company offer to pay back all outstanding money owed at the start of any new extension.
Cllr Siddons said: “This offer has come out of the blue.
“Cabinet carefully considered this proposal and have agreed to give Benchmark one month to provide the detail needed to consider the matter further.
“This is not, at this stage, a change of plan but it would be inappropriate for Cabinet to ignore and dismiss this offer without due consideration.
“Benchmark have until January 31 to bring their proposals forward at which time the detail will be reconsidered.
“Benchmark is liable for its debts to the council whether or not the contract is extended but we would be failing in our duty if we ignored this request.
“Repayment of all the outstanding debt to the council and early settlement of the waterpark loan has to be fully considered.”
The council leader has previously made no secret of his preference for a cinema located in the town centre, rather than in the North Bay.
Benchmark has been approached for a comment.