The Labour Party has dismissed claims they are split as “wishful thinking”, after a councillor said the development of a new cinema in Bargoed would be “politically and morally unacceptable”.
The comments were made in an email written to Labour councillors by Labour councillor Roy Saralis, raising concerns that budget cuts would “probably lead to compulsory redundancies and have devastating effects on services”.
In the email, leaked to Caerphilly Observer, Cllr Saralis said: “If this development takes place we will be seen as an authority that gives financial support to a multinational company with one hand and handing out redundancy notices with the other.”
The issue of Bargoed cinema was raised by Blackwood Labour councillor Nigel Dix in May this year when it was revealed its cost could rise above £6.9 million.
Caerphilly County Borough Council would fund the development and has lined up the Odeon chain as the probable leaseholder.
But Cllr Dix claimed a £4m loan, repayable over 20 years, and a planned ten-year lease to the multinational cinema chain, could leave the council with a “white elephant” multiplex incurring debt.
He has also previously said that private companies could look at re-opening the existing Hanbury road cinema in Bargoed.
In the email, directed at council leader Keith Reynolds and head of regeneration, Cllr Ken James, Cllr Salaris also said the new cinema in Blackwood meant the plans should be reviewed.
He said: “You stated in the group meeting that nothing had changed since the decision on the cinema had taken place.
“However a substantial change has occurred, a private company which requires no public funding, will be opening a cinema in the borough next week.”
He also claimed taxpayers were subsidising the Morrisons supermarket development and adjacent empty units in Bargoed at a cost of £70,000 a year and from 2016 £155,000 a year in rent charges.
Cllr Salaris added: “This project is a gamble at a time when we should be doing our upmost to protect jobs and cuts in services.
“We have to hold the ‘moral high ground’ and not expose ourselves to further public criticism. If or when the opposition group decide to challenge this venture our credibility and governance will be questioned.”
Despite his opposition to the plan, Cllr Dix said the leaked letter showed his party are open to debate.
He said: “I’ve raised my concerns about taking on debt when looking at cuts. It’s an unprecedented time for councils for cuts, it’s worse than the 1980s.
“The cinema plan was supported by Plaid Cymru so it’s not political in that sense. It’s a call for all councillors on both sides to talk about the way ahead on this and in Labour we are having that debate.”
Cllr Dix said the discussions have centred around whether the cinema should go ahead, with the council looking at cutting its cost, or whether the plan should be scrapped altogether.
He said: “It’s a reflection of internal debate, which is healthy. My question is if it comes back to council, which I hope it does, how will Plaid Cymru vote? I want every councillor to have a free vote, are Plaid Cymru brave enough to have that debate and where do they stand on it?”
Cllr Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said: “Given the recent opening of the Maxime cinema in Blackwood, just 10 minutes away from Bargoed by car, it would seem prudent to review the multiplex project.
“The council is facing a very challenging financial situation in the years ahead so it should look very closely at any and every project, in particular anything which has multi-million pound implications.
“I would like to see an update on the cinema project, in particular the financial implications, provided for all councillors and I will be raising this at the policy and resources committee.”
A Labour group spokesman said: “Far from being divided, the email in question shows that robust internal democratic debate is thriving in our group of Labour councillors. We encourage ongoing discussion and review of council initiatives within our group. This will of course reflect members’ and the public’s concerns.
“But our Labour group is 100% united around our commitment to invest public funds prudently and to protect as far as possible the valued services our residents rely on, in the face of ever-deeper Tory-led Westminster government cuts.”
Cllr Roy Saralis reiterated that open debate was at the heart of Labour politics and was welcomed in the council’s Labour group.
He said: “I’m happy with the way things are progressing at the moment. It’s clear those people I expressed them (my concerns) with will listen and come back with their considerations.
“I just hope we come to a conclusion that is suitable for everyone.”