SUPPORTERS of an historic Newton Abbot theatre and cinema say snags which have delayed a major town centre revamp could open the way for a new arts hub.

A group set up to champion the cause of the town’s Alexandra Theatre has released a spectacular computer ‘fly-by’ video of its plans for the historic building.

Now it believes government money ‘left over’ in the revamp could be spent on making the theatre a new live entertainment venue for the town.

The government’s Future High Streets fund has come up with £9.2 million to be spent on projects in Newton Abbot. The original proposals were for it to go on a new multi-screen cinema along with a redevelopment of the Market Hall in the town centre and traffic and parking changes in Queen Street.

But now the cinema plans have been deemed a ‘dead duck’ and have been removed from the plans amid criticism that councillors have been dragging their feet for five years trying to get the projects across the line.

The latest stage in the saga, with a deadline to spend the cash looming, means the council will submit new proposals to the government and ask for more time to get the project moving.

At a full meeting of Teignbridge Council it was suggested that around £2.5 million which is not now being spent on the multiplex might go towards the Grade Two listed ‘Alex’ instead.

“Maybe,” said council leader Martin Wrigley (Lib Dem, Dawlish NE).

The not-for-profit Alexandra Theatre Newton Abbot Community Benefit Society has lodged a planning application which is likely to be discussed by the council in March.

The plans include a new entrance atrium with a link to the Market Hall and a concourse with bar, cafe and ticket office within the restored theatre. There would be up to 265 seats in the theatre, with the auditorium renovated to provide a modern performance space without compromising its historic character.

Cllr Richard Daws (SD Alliance, Ambrook) said: “Now that the concept of a five-screen ‘shipping container’ cinema has been deemed to be unviable by operators, the concept of the Alex becoming a year-round live entertainment venue and community hub, providing theatre, music, comedy and community events alongside cinema screenings, is one that we believe should be pursued.

“It would be of massive benefit to the town and district. If the Lib Dem-run council are able to switch funding to the town’s vision of the Alex remains to be seen, but I fully anticipate that in the fullness of time, by one route or another, the Alex will become the arts centre for the district and benefit the health and wellbeing of the town for generations to come.”

Cllr Daws told the council meeting the renovation of the theatre would bring ‘transformational change’.

Cllr Wrigley replied: “One of the options would be to do something with the Alex. Whether that’s the best use of that £2.5 million is yet to be determined.

“But the answer to your question is ‘maybe’.”