Merville cinema plan is a box office flop

Land on the Shore Road opposite Merville Garden Village which had been earmarked for a new cinema development.
Land on the Shore Road opposite Merville Garden Village which had been earmarked for a new cinema development.
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MERVILLE residents celebrated the council’s decision to stop a potential land sale which could have seen a new cinema built in the Abbeycentre area.

A 3.2-acre area of land, opposite Merville Garden Village on the Shore Road, was deemed by the council in June, as “surplus” to requirements.

The decision came after a property developer contacted the council expressing an interest to buy a 1.2 acre portion of the land.

The developer had indicated that they were hoping to develop the site as part of a £6millon seven-screen cinema project which would create around 150 construction jobs and another 40 after the work was completed.

At Monday night’s full council meeting, a group of five councillors successfully had the earlier decision over turned.

Speaking to the Times after the meeting David Milliken, chair of the Merville Residents Association said: “We are well pleased with the decision.

“We thought the original decision was hopeless and a cinema on the site would have added to the traffic congestion in the area.

“This is a great result.”

In June the council deemed the land surplus to requirements.

At the time, 12 councillors voted in favour of the proposal to declare the land surplus with eight voting against and one abstaining.

At Monday night’s full council meeting councillors John Blair, Audrey Ball, Paula Bradley, Thomas Hogg and Billy Webb proposed a motion to overturn the original decision.

Proposing the notice of motion, Billy Webb said: “This piece of land is an important piece of urban open space and a natural resource.

“It does not matter if no one actually uses the space, it is supposed to provide rest from the grey monotony of the urban landscape and any development on the land would take away from that.

“There is also the problem of the road infrastructure which already has difficulty with the large volume of traffic.”

Councillor Thomas Hogg added: “In June, councillors approved this when the full facts of the matter were not known.

“Now, given the huge public feeling on the matter and more detail on the potential use of the land, it is only right that the decision be revoked and the land not designated as surplus.

“The Merville residents are rightly very proud of their area and all they are asking is that we maintain that unique character. If other residents held the same pride in their area as the Merville residents do in theirs, live in Newtownabbey would be all the better and our rates much lower.”

During the meeting some councillors argued that the depth of feeling against the development proposals was not a big as was being made out.

Councillor John Scott said: “I received three phone calls on the matter. One was from the residents’ association and the other two were from residents saying they wanted jobs brought to the area.”

Mayor Victor Robinson also said he had been contacted by residents in favour of the plan and wanting new jobs brought to the area.

Councillor Robert Hill argued that the decision should be deferred for further information and to facilitate a site meeting.

He said: “This has just been dropped on us tonight. It would be useful for us to have more information on the proposals for the site and for councillors to visit the site to see exactly what we are talking about.”

Following a recorded vote the council passed the motion with 15 councillors voting for, one against and with six abstentions.

The land will no longer be deemed surplus to requirements by the council and will not be put up for sale.

Merville residents, sitting in the public gallery in the council chamber, applauded the decision when the vote results were announced.