A design image of the proposed extension and redevelopment of Athlone's IMC Cinema. In a blow for the project, Westmeath County Council refused to extend the duration of planning permission granted for it in 2019.

Blow for Athlone cinema revamp as council refuses to extend planning approval

The proposed extension and redevelopment of Athlone's IMC Cinema has suffered a setback with Westmeath County Council refusing to extend the duration of the five-year planning permission that was granted for the project in 2019.

Operators of the cinema in Golden Island had requested a four-year extension to their planning approval, saying they were hoping to start work on site this September and have the upgraded facility finished by early 2027.

The council's decision not to grant the requested extension is likely to mean a new planning application would have to be submitted by the cinema - and approved - in order for the proposed works to get underway.

In December 2018, Cinema Properties Limited submitted a planning application for a redevelopment of the six-screen cinema in order to provide a "luxury" experience for customers.

The project included the addition of another four cinema screens, along with the construction of a new restaurant unit that would adjoin the extended facility.

Planning permission was granted by the council in May of 2019, but was then appealed to An Bord Pleanála by OKR Group, on behalf of the Burger King restaurant in the Golden Island Shopping Centre.

In September 2019 the planning board rejected the appeal but imposed some new development conditions on Cinema Properties Ltd.

However, in the four and a half years since then, work on the redevelopment of the cinema has not started.

The current planning permission is due to expire on September 10 this year.

In a letter to Westmeath County Council asking for the planning permission to be extended, Paul Ward, a director of Cinema Properties Ltd, said the Covid-19 pandemic had significantly delayed the project.

He stated that the pandemic "in effect, resulted in circa 2.5 years being lost". He added that there were other tenants in the Golden Island Shopping Centre who had to consent to the development works at the cinema.

"We have been advised the majority of tenant consents have been obtained at this stage and that the final consent should be obtained by the shopping centre owner shortly.

"These two factors are outside of the control of the applicant and it is for these reasons, and the fact it is a complex build, I would hope a planning extension would be agreed," he wrote.

In a report on the application to extend time for the project, Yvonne Haughey, executive planner with the council, wrote that under the Planning and Development Act (2000), applications to lengthen the duration of planning permission could only be granted if certain criteria were met.

These criteria included that the development had started prior to the expiration of planning permission and that "substantial works" had been carried out during that period.

Ms Haughey found that the application from Cinema Properties Ltd "does not accord with the legislative requirements" of the Planning and Development Act because "no works have commenced" on site.

"It is therefore recommended that the application as currently presented, to extend the duration of the planning permission, should be refused".

This recommendation was upheld by the council, with the refusal to extend the planning permission signed by Director of Services Ambrose Clarke on March 14 last.