Three deals have already been agreed at the square with leisure operators. Credit: planning documents

Cinema proposed in Captain Cook Square leisure switch

Middlesbrough Council is looking to add a boutique picturehouse to the repositioned site, with plans for a conversion project set to be heard next week.

The local authority’s planning and development committee will consider the application, which comes from Middlesbrough’s own regeneration team, on 14 April. No external consultants are named in the drawings submitted.

The two-storey unit in question was previously occupied by That’s Entertainment and could house a three-screen boutique cinema.

Middlesbrough bought the 23-unit Captain Cook Square as a whole in June 2020, with the aim of repurposing the square into leisure, given the decline in high street retail. It simultaneously announced a separate deal to buy the town’s House of Fraser store.

The council secured £14.1m from the Future High Streets Fund, of which £9.1m is ringfenced for the Captain Cook site. A grant will be made for the cinema project.

Thus far, deals have been secured with Dovecot – representing the bar operator’s second Middlesbrough site – and an e-sports gaming venue called The Wired Lobby, which are to open soon; and LevelX, which offers bowling, mini golf and VR gaming and opened in February.

In the cinema application’s design & access statement, the council said that conversations are “advanced” on three other units, all based on leisure, food and drink and ancillary uses.

Those on the cusp of taking up leases, plus leases already agreed, would total an existing 70% of the site being non-retail, and 30% retail.

A boutique cinema operator already working in four other UK locations is to be brought in, operating a three-screen venue across the whole of the building.

With conditional approval recommended, the planning officer noted: “The site is located in a highly sustainable location, given the building is within the town centre and within walking distance of Middlesbrough bus and train stations. The proposal is therefore considered to be within a highly sustainable location in line with both local and national policies.

“In addition, the re-use of a vacant building within the town centre is considered to be a positive improvement to the vitality and viability of this area of the town centre and will contribute to the planned and approved leisure uses within Captain Cook Square.”

Cinemas within shopping centre overhauls or new-build retail & leisure areas are proving a popular driver of footfall across the North: in 2021 the Capitol cinema opened in part of the Concourse shopping centre in Skelmersdale, while boutique operator The Arc will open at Rotherham’s Forge Island scheme in 2024.

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