At a meeting on February 8, Derbyshire Dales District Council’s planning committee approved the authority’s plans to turn Matlock’s Market Hall into a two-screen cinema and 50-cover restaurant.
This brings long-held plans for the concrete block site, next to the M&S Foodhall, to a conclusion after years of “challenging” work and debate involving local councillors, officers and volunteers.
John Phillips, agent for the Bakewell Road application, told the meeting that the scheme would “benefit the town centre as a whole and improve the gateway to the town from the south-west”.
He said a key benefit would be “replacing what can be described as a bunker-like facade which is there at the moment”.
Mr Phillips said there are future plans to install public art around the site to further improve the area.
He said: “The scheme will provide Matlock with a valuable leisure and cultural asset which will benefit both the local community and support the visitor economy and boost the town’s night-time economy.”
Ken Parker, secretary of Matlock Civic Association, said: “This site has been a blemish on the town for a very long time. We welcome the district council’s intention to redevelop the site and the design of the building itself will be a huge improvement.
“The new uses should breathe new life into the town.”
Helen Crane, secretary of the Matlock Community Vision community interest company, said its members had been pushing since 2014 to do something of value to the site.
She said residents felt they “needed something more special than a proposal for a big supermarket and extensive parking, which was the proposal at the time along Bakewell Road”.
A series of residents and councillors, along with the civic association and Matlock Community Vision all felt the pavement around the site should not involve Tarmac.
They felt this was a disservice to the improvements aimed at the area and would not match the paving slabs which adorn the sidewalks of Matlock town centre, calling for this to be changed.
Peter O’Brien said the use of Tarmac “lets the magnificent new building down”.
He said: “In the same way as if we get dressed up to go out to the cinema, we don’t go out wearing our slippers.”
Chris Whitmore, head of the council’s planning team, said the authority is only in control of part of the walkway areas around the site while Derbyshire County Council is responsible for the rest.
He said the county council’s default position is to use Tarmac and not paving slabs due to the improved maintenance benefits of the former and potential effects of the latter gathering water.
Mr Whitmore said the county council would need to paid to upgrade the area to slabs and to pay for its continued maintenance, but this would have to be at a later date, if and when further money is sourced for the project.
He said: “This development is a positive for Matlock, it will add to the shopping, the retail and commercial and leisure offer within the town, thereby enhancing the vitality and viability of Matlock.
“We are satisfied that it is a form of development that does enhance this part of town. It will breathe new life into this part of town.”
Cllr Garry Purdy, leader of the authority, said: “Along the way there have been some very serious hiccups to all our ambitions (for the market hall site).
“I’m talking about Somerfield, then Tesco, then Trent Barton. There is a long history to this and I am really pleased to see it come forward.
“The pandemic has increased lots of costs and it has been a great worry to us that the applicant might actually withdraw because of this and I am so delighted that it is still on board, this is a fantastic scheme.”
Cllr Purdy said the Ritz Cinema in Belper was a great example of the quality that could come to Matlock which will “increase the nighttime economy”.
Cllr Sue Burfoot, who represents Matlock on the district and county council, said: “It certainly has been a long process and has been long-awaited.
“I too was fearful that with rising costs that we might not get to this stage
“I think we can all accept this gateway has been somewhat unattractive. I think the report refers to “an uninviting structure” and I think that is a bit of an understatement.
“It will be a welcome addition to the town.”
Cllr Peter Slack said: “For many years this area has been letting matlock down, we had an indoor market that didn’t really work and was a bit of a dungeon really, and I am pleased to see that we are moving forward with it.”
The cinema would have a capacity for 67 people in one screen and 89 in the second screen, while the restaurant would have room for 50 covers.
Designs submitted with the application show the restaurant and café being called “Vertigo Café” and the cinema being called “Dales Matlock Cinema”, however the exact details are to be worked out by the private operator of the businesses.
The operator, who bid for the project and runs over sites, has not yet been disclosed publicly.
A council report to be discussed next week says phase two of the scheme is subject to “fundraising” and would include a 133 square metre community space.
The council has previously disclosed that the cinema would create 18 direct full-time jobs and lead to other jobs being created in the town.
It has also said that the authority will break even on its investment – up to £800,820 – in year 13, meaning it will take 13 years to see a profit.
The authority has set aside a further £48,000 as a contingency for any unpredicted costs.
Council papers have said the scheme could increase footfall in Matlock by 37,704 a year in the first two years, with £659,816 in extra annual town centre spending, while the cinema operator expects 58,000 visitors a year.