We are writing to update you about important developments that mark a critical milestone in our eight-year campaign to secure a professionally run, fully operational cinema at 25 Church Road – our town centre’s only large, dedicated D2 entertainment venue. These developments also mark a potential turning point in the future of the Picture Palace Campaign itself.
The Picture Palace Campaign
As many of you will know, 25 Church Road started life in the 1920’s as an art deco Rialto cinema serving generations of Crystal Palace residents as a popular entertainment venue, first as a cinema and latterly as the Gala Bingo Hall, before being acquired for £1,050,000 in June 2009 by Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), notwithstanding the keen interest in the site from Picturehouse Cinemas.
The Picture Palace Campaign was set up on 24 June 2009 after a group of residents, traders and councillors came together at the Royal Albert having heard about the secret sale by Gala.
Shortly afterwards, KICC announced its intentions to seek a change of 25 Church Road’s historic, designated D2 public entertainment planning use to one of D1 religious worship, aligned with its plans to develop the building into a major church, servicing a congregation from across South London and South East England. This would have removed all prospect of maintaining 25 Church Road’s status as a vibrant public entertainment venue and its huge potential to make a valuable contribution to the cultural and economic vitality of our town centre.
A long summer of campaigning culminated in a public meeting at the Queens Hotel on 18 October 2009, attended by over a thousand residents, local traders and political representatives. It became abundantly clear that, however well-meaning KICC’s intentions were, there was overwhelming local support to return 25 Church Road to its historic roots as a cinema. The Picture Palace Campaign was well and truly established!
Eight years on and still going
Little did we know that, eight years on, we would still be striving to achieve our goal – to create an opportunity for a cinema operator to purchase the building and convert it into a modern, multi-screen cinema. During that time, backed by the incredible energy, passion and commitment of the campaign’s supporters, we have achieved a great deal:
- The campaign has attracted steadfast local, national and international support and coverage, and has been endorsed by leading film and television professionals;
- We have fostered and developed strong relationships with key decision makers at Bromley Council and with local political representatives of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark local authorities, the GLA and at national parliamentary level;
- We have built a credible reputation with potential cinema operators, emphasising the potential of 25 Church Road and encouraging them to explore acquiring the site, should that opportunity arise;
- We have sought to persuade KICC that its plans and intentions for 25 Church Road were not in keeping with the balance of local opinion;
- We have galvanised opposition to two major planning applications and a subsequent planning appeal in order to maintain 25 Church Road’s status as an important public entertainment venue. We are proud that:
- The original proposed change of use from D2 to D1 in 2009 was met by a record number of planning objections to the London Borough of Bromley (over 3,500 plus a petition signed by more than 6,000 people).
- That a second application in 2014 for a mixed D1/D2 proposal triggered similar levels of local objections to that in 2009.
- That the appeal by KICC to the Planning Inspectorate in 2015 resulted in an independent Planning Inspector recognising and endorsing the strength of the community’s arguments, commenting that “The lawful use of the building is so important to the overall function of the centre that the loss of the opportunity to reinstate a use exclusively within Class D2 should not be lost…….Given the strength of local support for the retention of the Class D2 use this is a material consideration in the appeal.”
- Consistent with our goals, the importance of 25 Church Road to the local community, and to enhance and protect the building’s architectural and cultural heritage, the Picture Palace Campaign (through a specially established not-for-profit company) secured a listing of the building as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV) by Bromley Council under the Localism Act 2011. This ensured that KICC now had a legal obligation to notify Bromley Council if the building was put up for sale and, potentially, would enable local community groups to formally bid to acquire the building.
Most of all we have tried to reflect the views and wishes of you – our supporters. These significant milestones and actions, and your amazing support, have all contributed to our goal of maximising the opportunity of returning 25 Church Road to use as a cinema – should KICC ultimately determine to sell the building.
So where are we today?
In May 2017, KICC advised Bromley council that it had decided to sell 25 Church Road. And so began a series of critical developments which might, just might, achieve what we have all been campaigning for – but this is by no means certain and considerable challenges still lie ahead.
Since the news of the planned sale:
- KICC appointed Strettons to market 25 Church Road for sale, providing an opportunity for cinema operators to acquire the site.
- However, the proposed sale is subject to a competitive bidding process and is open to any bidder, of whatever type.
- Further, as a registered charity, we understand that KICC’s trustees are obliged to seek the best price obtainable and maximise recovery of KICC’s investment.
- The bidding process closes on 18 November 2017.
- We understand that the indicative asking price has ranged to as high as £5 million.
- The building has attracted the attention of several potential cinema operators, but these may not be the only ones interested in the site.
Accordingly, whilst we are delighted that an opportunity has now arisen, there is no certainty that it will result in what we have been campaigning for. Ultimately KICC owns the building and we cannot force them to sell to a cinema operator. KICC may simply choose to sell to the highest bidder.
Nevertheless, we understand that a number of active bids and proposals are being contemplated by groups and consortia which include cinema operators – some of whom have been willing to share their views with the Picture Palace Campaign on the, understandable, proviso that we respect the confidentiality of very sensitive, commercial considerations. We have, and will continue, to fully respect their wishes, not least because we do not wish to harm the prospects of any such bids.
What about a campaign bid?
As a result of securing ACV status, it has been open, since May 2017, for any community group to make a bid and to seek a six month moratorium, preventing a sale elsewhere in order to prepare such a bid. Cinema for Crystal Palace (CFCP – our not-for-profit limited entity) triggered that moratorium in order to explore the feasibility of a bid. We were advised that funds would need to be in place by the end of the ACV moratorium period on 18 November, at which point KICC could legally sell the building to another bidder.
The ACV right to bid does not mean that KICC are legally obliged to accept such a bid – it merely provides a six-month window to prepare one. The Directors of CFCP, which nominated the building for ACV status, have considered the possibility of a bid but, as we are sure you can appreciate, the complexities, level of finance required and timescales involved are challenging. The challenges include how to fund, structure and manage the building as a professionally run successful cinema, were we able to raise the very high purchase price being demanded.
We are, however, still exploring our options.
We will provide another update once we know the outcome after the close of the bidding process on 18 November 2017. In the meantime, we remain committed to our goal and continue to offer support and encouragement to potential cinema operators to maximise the prospect of a successful bid.
The campaign has also met recently with elected representatives in the London Borough of Bromley. They have all assured us that they remain committed to seeing the D2 planning use retained at the building and have indicated their support for a cinema there. Accordingly, any future proposals by a successful bidder that did not retain D2 usage as the primary focus would inevitably attract further planning objections and detailed scrutiny.
For the moment we would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us and been involved in the campaign over the past eight years. It is testament to the fighting spirit of Crystal Palace residents and traders that we have reached this point. Thank you for your continued support. We would not be here without you.
We will be in touch as soon as we have further news.
Picture Palace Campaign Team