Wellingborough councillors are to discuss a proposal to convert part of the town’s multi-storey car park into a cinema and restaurant complex.
Councillors will be asked at a meeting next week to agree to the idea in principle, so that further negotiations can take place.
The car park, which costs taxpayers more than £150,000 a year to run, could have the leisure complex built on top of it if the proposal goes ahead.
Council leader Cllr Paul Bell said: "The car park has been a concern for many years. There’s no doubt it’s coming to the end of its life and a report a few years ago estimated it would cost around £2 million to bring it up to scratch.
"On top of that, it costs a lot of money each year to maintain and manage the car park, lifts and toilets. We’re committed to free parking in Wellingborough, but there is a significant cost to providing this facility and we are open to looking at ways to reduce that."
The proposal put forward to the council is by a company that’s interested in building a leisure complex with a cinema and restaurants on top of the car park, and expanding it into the nearby, council-owned, 20 Sheep Street.
A partnership deal would mean that repairs and maintenance costs for the car park could be dealt with by the company, with part of the building used for the leisure complex.
Town centre parking surveys have been carried out which have shown that occupancy of the multi-storey has declined from 72% in November 2008 to 60% in November last year. The top floor of the car park has also been chained for a number of years, meaning that there is capacity to build on top and still retain enough town centre car parking spaces.
Cllr Bell said: "The loss of some spaces to a cinema and restaurants should not affect parking availability. It’s also assumed that additional need created by people visiting the leisure complex would be at different times, as they would tend to be in the early evening and therefore not affect people who use the car park to shop and work in the town centre during the day.
"In addition, a complex like this would undoubtedly make the town centre more attractive and fit in with our wider regeneration plans.
"This proposal is still at a very early stage, and all we’re discussing at the moment is whether or not to agree to the idea in principle, and give authority for negotiations, feasibility studies and consultations to take place.
"We can’t escape the fact the car park is an old building that needs repairing. We could spend the money to repair it, or we could sell it and effectively lose control of the site. It makes sense to explore the other option that’s been put forward to see what this partnership deal could bring to the town."
The report outlining the proposal, and asking councillors to agree the idea in principle, will be discussed by both the council’s services committee on Monday 2 February and the resources committee on Wednesday 4 February.