A DREAM many Abingdon film lovers feared would never become reality is now one step closer as a formal offer has been submitted to use the Abbey Hall as a cinema.

Although it falls short of a £3.5m extension of the Guildhall, which was scrapped last year and would have included a 200-seat cinema, the scheme could see the building reopen in time to screen the latest releases this summer – starting with the Mamma Mia sequel, released on July 20.

Husband and wife Ian and Sue Wiper, who own independent cinema The Regal in Evesham, Worcestershire, wrote to Abingdon Town Council, which owns the building, in January asking it to consider letting them use the Guildhall’s 1960s extension for screenings.

Mrs Wiper wrote: “Our plan for the Guildhall is to invest in state of the art projection and audio-visual equipment and a big retractable screen which we would remove at the end of our tenancy. We would also invest and install, at our expense, luxury seating.

A formal offer has now been made to lease the building until the summer of 2020, and subject to negotiations over repair costs this has been recommended for approval by the authority's finance and general purposes committee.

It follows the success of The Regal’s temporary cinema in the Unicorn Theatre in Checker Walk this winter, where almost 8,000 tickets have been sold.

Mr Wiper said: “We are delighted with this recommendation and look forward to working with the town council.

"If all goes as expected, we hope to launch in the summer of 2018 with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again."

His wife added: "The success of the Unicorn proves there is a real appetite for a full time cinema in Abingdon. We are confident the date we've set out is realistic."

In the longer term the Abbey Hall, which has been closed since 2015, is set to form part of a new ‘community hub’ in the town.

Oxfordshire County Council, which runs the library, and Abingdon Town Council, unveiled an agreement to work more closely to join up public services within the town earlier this year.

Council leader Mike Badcock said the authority was still 'committed and enthused' by the long-term ambition for a community hub at the Abbey Hall but equally wished to see a cinema again firmly established in the town.

He added: "We are therefore delighted to be working with the Regal Cinema of Evesham in seeking to make good use of the Abbey Hall over the next couple of years.

"We know that the Regal have an excellent track record in Evesham and more recently at the Unicorn.

"Their proposal to rent the Abbey Hall for cinema has been positively received by the Finance and General Purposes Committee and we are working hard to ensure that the outstanding matters are resolved so that the council can move forward."

The councillor, who is also chairman of the finance committee, said the council would continue to keep residents informed regarding progress.

The news has also been welcomed by campaigners who launched a petition last year to call on the council to reopen the Abbey Hall, closed since 2015.

Iain Littlejohn, who created the online version which has been signed by more than 2,000 people, said it was a 'great step forward' and credited public pressure with helping make the announcement possible.