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Former Odeon cinema is ‘people’s choice’ as site for new Chester theatre, says ex-MP Christine Russell

EX-LABOUR MP Christine Russell wants a public debate with a culture boss over the best site for Chester’s proposed new theatre.

Ms Russell, a member of the Odeon Action Group, says the £38m option to redevelop the former cinema in the city centre is the ‘people’s choice’.

The group recently met Cllr Richard Short, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s executive member for culture and recreation, and Ms Russell says it’s clear he is in favour of the alternative £50m Little Roodee location – even though it is more expensive.

She said: “Our fear is that people will drive there and drive away again. All the businesses in the city centre will not reap the benefit.

“The Odeon has got good public transport links, it’s got car parking.

“The cafes, the restaurants and even the shops would benefit. It would give a lift to the whole Northgate end of town.”

Ms Russell believes the Tory-controlled council favours the Little Roodee because it also wants to deliver a £20m conference centre on the same site.

She believes the best site for such a centre would be at Chester Racecourse, which according to a consultant’s report has already been explored as an option.

Ms Russell said: “We agree with that, and if they want to develop a convention centre it should be led and paid for by the private sector, because they are the ones who will benefit.”

Cllr Short has publicly backed the Little Roodee in the past, but Ms Russell believes the community would prefer to redevelop the Odeon – backed by 74% of respondents in an online Chronicle poll – and has called for a public consultation.

A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesman said there would be a public consultation after the executive committee had chosen its preferred option in March.

He said there was no point hosting a debate involving Cllr Short as no decision had been taken.