COUNCILLOR Ferris Cowper, for some 17 years the driving force behind the regeneration of Whitehill & Bordon, has spoken out against East Hampshire District Council’s (EHDC) new “unfocused and lean” approach to the £1 billion scheme.

His comments to the Herald represent the first time the Tory councillor for Grayshott has spoken publicly about his abrupt removal from the council’s cabinet last month, and East Hants’ axing of his dedicated Whitehill & Bordon portfolio role.

It also comes amid concerns that the town’s promised six-screen cinema could be scaled down, or axed altogether, as the long-term impacts of Covid-19 takes its toll on the scheme.

The cinema was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of Whitehill & Bordon’s new town centre, as well as a draw for the thousands of young families buying homes on the former Army barracks – not to mention another community asset for all those long-suffering existing townsfolk who have had to endure the building works.

But this week it was revealed that actually, Whitehill & Bordon may not be getting the shiny new multiplex cinema it was promised back in 2007 after-all.

It will, says the Whitehill & Bordon Regeneration Company, get a new ‘drive-in’ cinema, hopefully next Easter.

But the company is “waiting to see how the cinema market develops” before committing to a permanent picture house.

Cllr Cowper said: “For several years the Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration was not only the biggest project in EHDC’s history, it was the most complex.

“The management approach and resourcing was lauded nationally by government and industry as a role model.

“However, the council would seem to have decided that this is no longer necessary and the town no longer needs the dedicated leadership and project resources.

“This is despite the fact that arguably the biggest challenges of delivering the exciting town centre and national exemplar health hub, still lie ahead.

“I dedicated 17 years of my life to righting the past wrongs inflicted on the town by successive councils and national governments.

“The dream town of the 21st century was in our grasp and I do hope this new, apparently unfocused and lean approach, can still deliver on that vision.”

Responding, EHDC leader, Cllr Richard Millard, said: “I am constantly reviewing how cabinet operates to ensure it’s the very best it can be to deliver our ambitious objectives.

“The regeneration of Whitehill & Bordon is one of our key priorities and we have now reached a stage where rather than having one dedicated councillor role for this on cabinet, I want to involve more individuals so we have a wider breadth and depth of knowledge and skills targeted at it.”

However, Cllr Cowper’s criticisms have been echoed by Whitehill Town Council leader Andy Tree this week, after a new ‘FAQ’ section on the Whitehill & Bordon Regeneration Company’s website hinted the scheme’s six-screen cinema is to be replaced with a “drive-in.”

Cllr Tree’s subsequent demand for reassurance that the facilities long- promised as part of the new town centre are to be delivered were responded to by an EHDC spokesman, who told the Herald the drive-in is just “a short-term measure and does not preclude the development of a multiplex in the future.”

However, James Child, of the regeneration company, did admit the cinema is under review.

He said: “It is still our intention to deliver the cinema as planned, but to be prudent we want to make sure we have a full understanding of any longer term impact that Covid-19 might have on the design of cinema spaces before we start on the construction of this particular element of the town centre.”