UK support body the Film Council is pressing ahead with plans to create a so-called virtual circuit of art house cinemas and will spend $20m (£14m) over the next four years on up to 150 screens around the country.

Most screens are expected to leased from existing exhibitors, but new builds are also a possibility. A head office is to run programming, education and marketing.

Although the council has consulted the industry on the move, it was slammed by existing arthouses. The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham, which currently receives funding through the council as part of the UK's regional film theatre circuit, blasted the proposal as an "insult".

But the council argues that the move is part of a strategy to broaden the availability of specialist titles in the UK. The council is also spending $1.4m (£1m) on supporting p&a costs, with applicants committing partnership funding.

The council, which oversees National Lottery support for film, aims to support 20 specialist films each year through the scheme, which would run alongside a separate initiative for mainstream UK films.