Row breaks out over Gosport council plans to take money from community schemes to buy former Criterion cinema

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A political row over a plan to preserve a historic former cinema in Gosport ended with the council’s Lib Dem leader Peter Chegwyn saying a neighbouring borough’s Conservatives held Gosport Tories in ‘utter contempt’ for their inaction.

But Fareham's leader Sean Woodward hit back saying: 'Peter Chegwyn is just being Peter Chegwyn.’

The argument started because Gosport Borough Council’s Liberal Democrat administration will remove £2.167m from Stokes Bay Splash Park and other community schemes to redevelop the historic Criterion cinema - at an estimated cost of £1.65m.

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Gosport splash park, the former Criterion cinema and borough council leader Peter ChegwynGosport splash park, the former Criterion cinema and borough council leader Peter Chegwyn
Gosport splash park, the former Criterion cinema and borough council leader Peter Chegwyn

The released cash is intended to finance the acquisition and refurbishment of the Criterion building, formerly the Crown Bingo Hall, into an entertainment centre.

Previous council budgets reserved £423,500 for the refurbishment of the Stokes Bay Splash Park, which has now been removed.

Other schemes such as the proposed Stokes Bay War Memorial (£71,500) Pavilions & Paths at Privett Park (£500,000) ice rink refurbishment (£67,000) and a new Pavilion on Nobes Avenue (£343,000) have also been removed.

At full council on Wednesday, Conservative Councillor Kevin Casey said: ‘The splash park is one of Gosport borough’s success stories, so successful another one was opened in Lee. All residents in Gosport enjoy it.

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‘The money to refurbish it has been taken out of the capital programme but there’s £80,000 left over three years to look after the two splash parks - that’s just under £27,000 a year.’

Cllr Stephen Philpott added: ‘If this goes through this is going to be a very sad day indeed, probably the worst ever day for any residents of all ages in all parts of the borough who have any interest in sport.

‘Whether you enjoy team sports, whether you have children who enjoy recreational facilities on our seafronts, whether you enjoy working out for fitness or whether you enjoy ice skating or whether you simply want to go for a walk in the park.’

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In response Cllr Chegwyn said: 'I know the [Gosport] Conservatives don’t like saving old buildings, they’re not interested in heritage, they certainly don’t want to fund any new arts facilities because they never have but next-door Fareham council, Conservative run, has spent £13.6m on Ferneham Hall.

‘Gosport risks being left behind because the Conservatives in Fareham get on with things which is what the Conservatives in Gosport refuse to do.

‘It’s no wonder that the Conservative leader of Fareham Cllr Sean Woodward treats the Gosport Conservatives with such utter contempt and so do the public judging by the election results in May.’

‘The first priority is to save Gosport’s last remaining original cinema, one of 12 best examples in the country.

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‘This is the last chance to save part of our heritage - the aim is to make it a multi-purpose cinema, theatre, live music and community arts facility.’

‘If this was in Liverpool or Manchester or Glasgow or even the East End of London private entrepreneurs would come in, they’d spend hundreds of thousands of pounds and they’d make a huge success of it.

‘This is Gosport - we don’t have that kind of private money so if the council doesn’t do it no one else will.’

Reacting to Cllr Chegwyn, Cllr Woodward said: ‘The leader of Gosport Conservatives, Graham Burgess, is a good friend.

'Peter Chegwyn is just being Peter Chegwyn. I think, to misquote Margaret Thatcher, his motto should be “Where there is harmony, may we bring discord”.'