The trust responsible for running a community-run cinema has said that the local council was guilty of “wilful abandonment” and “incompetency” over its handling of concerns about asbestos at the venue that forced its closure for six months.

Calls to investigate council’s actions

Blaenau Gwent Council shut the doors of the Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr in November 2016, after an inspection revealed an area of the property potentially contaminated with asbestos. The cinema is one of the oldest in Wales, having first opened in 1894, but had been operated by volunteers since 2013, after the council said it could no longer afford to run it.

The Arts Trust has said the delay in reopening the cinema cost it over £150,000 in lost revenue. It also disputes the local authority’s claim that there was “potential for exposure to asbestos-containing materials”, which led it to issue a prohibition notice against the venue.

A BBC News report says the council is understood to have not followed a contractor’s advice that the building could be reopened in days if an environmental clean was undertaken and the attic sealed off.

The trust has called for an investigation into how the situation was handled by the council, which has denied wrongdoing and insisted it acted “with public safety in mind”.

Claims that closure put cinema’s future at risk

Julian Gardner, a member of the cinema and Arts Trust, said volunteers were “astounded” by the news of the building being closed.

He added: “Realistically this should have been a six-week process, yet areas were tested and re-tested, cleaned and re-cleaned.”

Gardner also questioned why there had not been a community asset transfer to give the charity a long-term lease, despite its more than four-year stewardship of the cinema.

Meanwhile, trustee Ian Cowley, who is responsible for the charity’s finances, said the delays left the cinema just six weeks away from having to close permanently.

However, the council said the sampling exercise and remediation was too “complex” to elaborate on without the risk of the work being taken out of context. It added that public safety was its priority, and that the cinema was not reopened until remedial works and other safety issues were dealt with.

The cinema was reopened in July 2017 by actor Michael Sheen.

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