The conversion of Port Talbot’s Plaza cinema is a major step closer after the local authority’s planning committee approved development plans for a mixed-use community facility with cafe, hall, gym and multi-purpose rooms.
The building, which is Grade II listed, has been empty for 20 years and is in a dilapidated state with a large hole in the roof and vegetation growing within the building.
But now, in a £6.5m project led by Neath Port Talbot Council, the art deco building is to be transformed into a new community and business hub operated by YMCA Port Talbot on a 25-year lease.
Councillors unanimously approved the development plans at a meeting on Tuesday, September 24.
A separate listed building application will now go before ministers for their determination in consultation with Cadw. This is because the building is owned by the council and the council is also the applicant for the development.
If all goes to plan builders could be on site in December and, with a 15-month construction period, the building is due to open in early 2021.
Speaking at the planning meeting one of the ward councillors, Dennis Keogh, said the people of Port Talbot had been waiting a long time for the project.
He said: “This is a day I thought would never come. The people of Port Talbot have waited so long – this iconic building means so much to so many people.
“We have seen so many failed schemes and so many false promises of money over the years only for them to disappear because of a change of administration and leadership and priorities becoming different.
“But we are now here and I really like what we are going to put there.”
Cllr Keogh, who recalled queueing up at the age of 14 to see Zulu at the Plaza, paid tribute to numerous officers and local people including Meyrick Sheen, the father of actor Michael, for their commitment and determination to the project.
Dinosaur fans fill the foyer of the Plaza, Port Talbot, in 1993 as the rush to view Jurassic Park begins (Image: South Wales Evening Post)
The plans involve two retail units, a cafe, a hall and multi-purpose rooms on the ground floor with a gym and office space on the first floor, and further office space on the second floor.
They will begin with the demolition of the ‘auditorium’ part of the cinema, before replacing it with a new structure.
The architecturally-significant front portion of the building, including “many internal features”, will be retained, repaired, and “sympathetically restored”.
The plans involve a green roof and solar panels with plant species to be decided at a later point.
The large multi-use hall which will contain retractable seating could take up to 250 people for an event.
Opening hours for the centre will be from 6am to 11pm, Monday to Saturday, and 9am to 6pm on Sunday.
Officers said the 6am start would cater for gym users, adding there there was widespread support for the proposals.
However there were some concerns from residents living nearby over the effect on car parking in Eagle Street as the proposal only includes a few parking spaces.
Officers said it was reasonable to assume a number of people visiting the centre would be using public transport given its town centre location, adding there were also nearby public car parks with a total of 300 spaces.
After the meeting fellow ward councillor Saifur Rahaman, who is not on the planning committee, said: “I am pleased that after so many years of planning, discussions and seeking various different funding opportunities the Plaza project is now finally being delivered.
“This is great news for our town and I am sure, like me, many people are also looking forward to the work being completed.”
Source: Wales Online