Bromley Times – 16 July 2009

MORE than 1,300 people have signed a petition calling for a former cinema to return to a town centre, writes Kate Mead.

Crystal Palace residents are urging the council to return the former Gala bingo club, in Church Road, to its original use of a cinema.

Evangelical church the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) bought the site on June 30 but residents intend to fight the proposal to turn it a place of worship.

The building currently has ‘Assembly and Leisure’ classification but the KICC lodged an application with Bromley council to change it to use for public worship.

Residents and traders have collected hundreds of signatures on their petition and the Cinema for Crystal Palace group on Facebook has attracted more than 600 members.

The Crystal Palace Triangle Planning Group, which was set up to oppose inappropriate development in the area, has promised that it will organise protests against the proposed church.

Spokesperson for the group Annabel Sidney said: “A church will remove a prime community venue. Congregations of potentially up to 1,400 will increase congestion and could take take all our parking. This will discourage people from shopping in the area and add absolutely nothing to the area’s economic viability. A cinema would bring many benefits to the area – employment, trade and community use.”

The venue started life as the Rialto cinema before it became the Granada which closed in 1968. City Screen, the company behind Ritzy Brixton and the Clapham Picture House, had made an offer for the site in a but were beaten by KICC in the sealed bids auction.

Ms Sidney added: “The majority of people who came to our first meeting have never got involved in any sort of campaign before. This has really touched a local nerve.”

A spokesman for Bromley council said an application to change the use of the building had not yet been received but when it was a consultation would take place. Liberal Democrat councillor John Canvin, said that people in his ward are concerned about the increase in traffic to the area due to limited parking, adding: “There is very strong feeling against it.

“It is a loss of a public building which would be available for all denominations. To put a church there would restrict it to people of a certain theological denomination and would attract others from outside the area.”

A spokesman for KICC told reporters that the site will be used for church services on Sunday mornings and evenings and Tuesday evenings.

It is also believed that the site will be open during the week for youth clubs, counselling, a book shop and café.

Pastor Dipo Oluyomi of the KICC said: “All our church members are really looking forward to working with the community to contribute to the regeneration of Church Road. We definitely appreciate people’s opinions. However, we feel they need to know us first for there to be any judgement as to who they think we are.”