MULTI-MILLION-POUND plans to transform the centre of Newton Abbot could be at risk with a deadline to spend millions of pounds of government money just weeks away.

The ambitious plans originally included a new cinema, the transformation of the old Market Hall and changes to traffic and parking in Queen Street.

They were submitted to the government in 2019 and approved, but have been dogged by delays ever since.

A new report to Teignbridge Council describes ‘years of indecision and disagreement’.

It warns that progress has been so slow that the entire project is at risk of failing, with the prospect of millions of pounds being handed back to the government unspent.

The Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities has told the council it is unlikely to extend the March deadline for spending the money.

A decision not to allow council officers to press on with urgent decision-making is seen as one of the key reasons for the delays.

The report will be considered by the full council next week, with a call for ‘clarity and clear direction’ to make sure the town doesn’t lose out on the £9 million project councillors described as ‘transformational’ when it was first unveiled.

However, officers are warning that it may already be too late.

The council’s original submission to the government’s Future High Streets Fund focused on ‘creating a modern centre that embraces sustainable travel and encourages people to shop, buy, eat and socialise locally’.

It said: ‘Space for community, artistic and cultural activities will be created alongside a revitalised market, food hall and Market Square.

‘A new state-of-the-art cinema will be built and significant improvements made to Queen Street and the National Cycle Network Route.’

However, the Queen Street traffic and parking proposals have proved divisive, while the cinema plan has been scrapped after being described as ‘dead in the water’.

At a meeting last July, council leader Martin Wrigley (Dawlish NE) and 10 other Liberal Democrat councillors backed a motion blocking officers from making key decisions on the project under delegated powers.

It said progress on the Market Hall and cinema had been ‘disappointingly slow’ and the projects were progressing without detailed oversight.

The big decisions would be overseen from then on by the executive committee instead and reported back to full council.

The motion said: ‘It is not the intention to stop the work, but to deliver the projects in a timely manner.’

But the report to next week’s meeting says: ‘The lack of delivery and current pause caused by the removal of delegated authority means there is a very real possibility of failing to deliver any element of the suite of projects.’

It says a lack of ‘decisive action’ could mean the projects run out of time and the money will have to be handed back. The cost to the council could be ‘abortive’.

The report goes on: ‘The removal of all delegated authority to progress the scheme has significantly slowed down progress to the extent that the Market Hall project is now at significant risk of failure if we cannot spend the government grant funding in time.’

It says the current position is ‘unsustainable’ and relying on the executive committee and the council to make the decisions is too slow.

Members of the council will be asked next week to back a new submission to the government asking for more time to spend the money as well as freeing up officers again to push on with key decisions.

The cinema would be removed from the fresh submission, meaning the £6.9 million earmarked for that could be spent instead on the Market Hall, where roof repairs are now required.