An independent cinema in Wirksworth is set to extend its offer to include a café, deli and bar.
The Northern Light Cinema, in North End, opened its doors five years ago with strict limitations to prevent any disruption to residents.
Now the venue’s owners have gained approval from Derbyshire Dales District Council to make a series of changes to keep the business afloat for the foreseeable future.
To do so, owner Paul Carr had applied to operate a deli, café and bar alongside – but independent of the cinema.
The bar area would seat 24 people, with space for a further 50 in the cinema.
This would allow the business to generate more income alongside its film and documentary viewings – even while the auditorium is full.
The cinema currently showcases smaller films, documentaries and recordings of live shows, along with some major movies.
Mr Carr also applied to allow more entertainment uses in the venue.
This would include live music such as jazz, comedy nights, quizzes, dancing, live opera, fashion shows, Playstation and Xbox for children’s parties, conferences and election debates.
Derbyshire Dales unanimously approved the application at a meeting on Tuesday.
Ahead of this, 138 members of the public had written support letters - with nine objecting.
To appease further noise issues, Mr Carr agreed to limit private hire closing time to 10.30pm and to restrict the maximum capacity to 52.
Alongside this, air conditioning would be installed to prevent people having to go outside for fresh air and potentially cause a disturbance.
Similarly, a new lobby area with an extra set of doors would be installed to prevent noise disturbance.
A ‘good neighbour policy’ is already in place at the venue to ensure anyone leaving the business is quiet, that people do not gather outside the entrance to smoke and that people do not park outside the site.
The venue has had more than 60,000 visitors since it opened five years ago, and at the tail end of 2018 featured in the Guardian’s top 10 UK independent cinemas.
Its manager, Briony Williams, said at the district council’s planning meeting that the venue had three full-time members of staff, all under the age of 26, and four part-time staff, all under the age of 18.
One of these volunteers said that he has seen more than 265 showings at the cinema.
Alongside this, she said, there are more than 20 volunteers who are all ‘not so young’ who are vital for the day-to-day running of the business.
Ms Williams, who has been in-post just over a year, said the business was eager to ‘provide more opportunities, for the young and old, for many years to come’.
She also answered some critics, saying: “We could put up prices but this would put off some people from coming and restrict access, we could also lower how much we pay our staff, but we want to remain a living wage employer.”
On the night of the decision, Mr Carr conceded: “With more visitors comes the possibility of more disturbance and more noise.
“We have heard concerns that are still relevant tonight but we have a number of things in place to deal with the impact and that none of this will affect resident amenity.
“We have our good neighbour policy, which includes no parking outside or smoking outside.
“There will always be some that don’t know about this or ignore the policy. We realise that not all residents will agree with this but most of the concerns we have had raised were in the first year of us opening.
“We are still committed to being a good neighbour.
“We will not screen live sporting events to protect neighbours, because these can attract a more boisterous crowd.
“We would make the most of passing trade with the café and deli, so that we can contribute to the vibrancy and economy of the town we love.”
Resident near the cinema, Anthony Costigan, feared that the site had outgrown its original permission.
He said: “We are going to end up with a seven-day bar with an entertainment business on the side.
“Local residents support the use of the cinema, but not the bar, and the only supporters of that live out of sight.”
Other objecting residents stated that they could not compete against the ‘PR machine’ of the cinema, which sought people to support the scheme.
They feared further noise disturbance, increased parking issues, anti-social behaviour, and the venue becoming a bar crawl stop.
Of the more than a hundred residents who supported the scheme, the most common themes were that the venue was a ‘crucial’ contribution to the town, especially how much it caters for people of all ages.
They felt that community “assets” such as the cinema must be supported to keep the town alive.
One supporter said that “to lose the cinema would be a gaping hole in the town”.
Coun Tony Morley said: “I think this is a smashing asset for the town.”
Meanwhile, deputy leader, Coun Albert Catt, said: “It was good to go and see the site again for this application, when we first went down five years ago it was basically derelict.
“To see it transformed into a community asset it is truly heart-warming.
“This plan is for the benefit of the business.”
Coun Peter Slack said: “Five years ago there was quite a lot of residents concerned about this, but I am pleased that all of this has been resolved and that the venue is now an asset to the town.”
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service