Doubts over whether cinema plans will go ahead, says shopping centre boss

Budget shops in Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead.
Budget shops in Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead.

A shopping centre boss has revealed he does not believe that plans for a town centre cinema complex will happen.

Marlowes Shopping Centre manager Vince Williams says competition from multiplex cinema Empire at Jarman Park will put off prospective investors.

Dacorum Borough Council is hoping to attract operators for a new six or nine-screen cinema in Market Square along with a range of restaurants under its regeneration plans.

The proposal for a second cinema for Hemel Hempstead has already been questioned by critics who feel it is not required.

Empire at Jarman Park is also planning to upgrade its cinema to an IMAX complex with almost 20 screens.

Mr Williams said: “Cinema groups say when you have got a 20-screen IMAX cinema up on Jarmans you can’t compete with that.

“It is hard growing the evening economy with restaurants and a leisure offering if there is already one built in the town.

“We will have to wait to see how it all pans out.”

The proportion of empty retail units in the town centre has hit its lowest rate since February 2012.

Official council figures reveal that the number of units on offer to retailers are at an all-time high at 252, but just 14 per cent of them currently stand empty.

The vacancy rate was at its highest in May 2013, when 22 per cent of units were empty.

Mr Williams said there are just three empty unit inside the Marlowes Shopping Centre and two of those are already under offer, although he is unable to reveal details at this stage.

“We have worked hard to get the centre looking right and that has helped tempt some retailers in,” he said.

The shopping centre has undergone a £600,000 refurbishment with toilet upgrades, new signage, redecoration and a new customer service desk. A further two units are currently being fitted out for beauty bar Nipa Beauty and fashion retailer Pep & Co.

Figures show that the town centre – often criticised for being too down market – currently has three pound stores and five charity shops.

Mr Williams said: “Budget stores and pound shops actually bring in footfall and in good ones it is all branded goods anyway, so it’s almost no different from a supermarket.”

A recent trend to change town centre offices into apartments will also have a knock-on affect.

Mr Williams said: “We lose our lunchtime trade. The benefits of having residential are very evening-based and unfortunately there is not a lot of evening economy in the town.”

But council group manager for strategic planning and regeneration, Chris Taylor, said they are working on ideas to boost evening trade including a night-time market.

She said: “Things are looking really positive at the moment. It [the occupancy rate] is near 100 per cent.

“The council has invested a lot of money into the public realm of the town to try to get people to come in and stay in.”