Why do we want a cinema?

A commercial cinema with a strong community focus would be a fantastic vehicle to drive forward the economic, cultural and social development of Crystal Palace as a sustainable district centre. We have seen the impact of cinemas elsewhere. We know they can transform communities by acting as a catalyst for both economic and environmental regeneration and promoting diversity through access to culture for the whole community regardless of background or belief. You can find out more by reading The Impact of Local Cinema – a study commissioned by the British Film institute and UK Arts Council in 2005 which is even more relevant today.

Why does the Campaign’s focus remain on restoring a cinema to 25 Church Road?

Since we started the campaign, we have explored a number of sites in Crystal Palace which might have been suitable for a cinema. The popularity of the campaign has also led to other cinema proposals being brought forward by third parties. For a variety of reasons, none of these proposals or the sites we have looked at have been taken forward.

We are a community campaign. Through talking to you regularly over the past five years, we know you would love a cinema anywhere in Crystal Palace but we also recognise the enormous strength of feeling regarding the former Rialto cinema, particularly about how it is used.

As we all know, new development opportunities are very limited in the Triangle especially with the pressure and premium on housing, which is why it is important to protect those buildings which could potentially deliver a cinema and already have the required D2 ‘Assembly and leisure’ planning use class.

25 Church Road is the only large entertainment building in Crystal Palace with a D2 planning use. It is the perfect location and size for a cinema.

You continue to tell us that it is an important building for shaping the future of the area and together we have worked hard to retain the planning use of this Asset of Community Value.

Would a cinema at 25 Church Road be commercially viable?

Yes, it would. The former Rialto has the capacity to be easily renovated into a vibrant cinema for the 21st century. Fully restored as a cinema it would be perfectly placed to enhance the economic and social vigour of Crystal Palace as a key cultural anchor for the town centre.

And, more importantly, as a result of our continued campaigning and the huge amount of public support the campaign has locally, we can confirm that there is still a willing purchaser for 25 Church Road that is prepared to invest a significant amount of money to bring a professionally run cinema back to Crystal Palace providing a cultural venue for the benefit of the whole community regardless of background or belief.

Why is a cinema the best use of 25 Church Road?

25 Church Road was originally built as the Rialto cinema. A commercially run cinema offering a variety of films at different times throughout the day would complement existing trade in the Crystal Palace Triangle, have a low impact in terms of traffic and parking, create footfall throughout the day, support and diversify the night-time economy and would not harm the development of Crystal Palace as a sustainable and thriving place for the people who live, work and use the Triangle for leisure, recreational and retail purposes.

What about traffic and parking? Wouldn’t it be the same as for the church or if the building was used as a concert venue? 

No, it would not. Surveys undertaken at three Picturehouse cinemas in Brixton, Greenwich and Clapham showed that the vast majority of cinema goers either walk or take public transport when they visit their local cinema and because screenings would be staggered people would not arrive and leave en masse unlike church services and music concerts where the majority of the congregation and audience would come from a distance and arrive and leave at the same time.

But the building is owned by a church and has been refurbished?

In June 2009, Kingsway International Christian Centre’s (KICC), which is a religious charity, speculatively purchased the building (taking it out of leisure use for the first time in over eighty years) in a secret deal with Gala Bingo without the correct planning use, as a church for its Wimbledon congregation and its membership from Surrey, south-east and south-west London and Kent. It also wanted to relocate its Southern Regional Office function.

In December 2009, KICC’s planning application for change of use to a ‘Place of Worship’ was refused by Bromley council planning committee on the advice of its officers and for the following reasons:

“The proposed development, involving the loss of an important entertainment/leisure use within Use Class D2 and the introduction of a mixed use including a place of worship within Use Class D1, would result in a reduction in the range of facilities provided within the town centre detrimental to the proper functioning of the daytime and evening economy and harmful to the social, cultural and economic characteristics of the area, thereby contrary to Policies 3A.18, 3D.1 and 4B.8 of the London Plan.”

“The nature of the activity associated with a Class D1 use such as a place of worship and the scale of the user means that they are likely to have a wide catchment for its congregation and attract a large number of cars and as a result the development will have a significant adverse impact on the surrounding area in terms of parking demand and pedestrian safety, contrary to Policy T18 of the Unitary Development Plan.”

The REFUSAL was supported by Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark councils.

Over 3,500 objections were received from local residents, supported by nearly 7,000 signatories to a local petition and 115 signatories to local trader’s petition.

Objections were also received from:

  • 3 Members of Parliament
  • 3 Greater London Authority Assembly Members
  • Mayor of Lewisham
  • The Sydenham Society
  • The Norwood Society
  • Crystal Palace Community Association
  • Chair of the Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood Chamber of Commerce

As threatened in 2009, if refused planning permission for change of use to a ‘Place of Worship’, KICC have left 25 Church Road locked up with the lights off for almost 5 years.

KICC refurbished the premises in 2011 and held a formal opening for their members in August 2012. However, since then, apart from a handful of events (mainly outside the lawful D2 planning use of the premises) to promote their church and business interests and for the benefit of KICC’s Wimbledon congregation (for whom the building was purchased) and their members that come from much further afield, it has been left unused. This has been to the detriment of Church Road, Crystal Palace town centre and the social well-being of the local community and contrary to promises made by their Trustees to our local MPs at a meeting in July 2012 to open the building up for community use.

KICC are a religious charity not an entertainment company. In order to justify their investment in the building they still need a change of use to deliver their charitable activities such as church services, baptisms and weddings, counselling services and conferences which all fall under the D1 planning use.

What are D1 and D2 Planning Use classes?

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) puts uses of land and buildings into various categories known as ‘Use Classes’. The planning system, through policies at National and Local level and use classes, is there to maintain a balance and mix of uses in town centres and to create sustainable thriving places where people want to live, work, socialise and visit.

It is good practice when you buy a property to check whether you need to obtain planning permission for your intended use, and, if so, your chances of getting it.

Cinemas fall within the D2 ‘Assembly and leisure’ use class – Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations (except for motor sports, or where firearms are used).

Churches fall within the D1 ‘Non-residential institutions’ use class – Clinics, health centres, crèches, day nurseries, day centres, schools, art galleries (other than for sale or hire), museums, libraries, halls, places of worship, church halls, law court. Non residential education and training centres.

What is the current situation?

The campaign is open to all ideas and options for a cinema in Crystal Palace and if you know of a site which might be suitable then please do contact us.

However, our focus remains on ensuring that the D2 ‘Assembly and leisure’ planning use is retained at 25 Church Road in the hope that KICC will reconsider their investment in the building and sell it to a cinema operator or to the community.

Following a series of complaints from local residents and traders to Bromley council about the unlawful D1 events being held at 25 Church Road, KICC indicated in 2013 that they would be submitting a new planning application. It never materialised.

In February 2014, Bromley council decided at Planning Committee that KICC should either submit a new planning application for mixed use D1 ‘Place of Worship/ D2 ‘Assembly and Leisure’, or face enforcement action for their unlawful events.

Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) submitted another planning application for ‘change of use’ of 25 Church Road to a D1 ‘Place of Worship’, conference and counselling centre with D2 add-on. This triggered similar levels of local objections to that in 2009 and was overwhelmingly refused at Planning Committee in March 2015.

In September 2015, KICC lodged an appeal against Bromley council’s refusal of planning permission involving the change of use of 25 Church Road from Use Class D2 (Assembly and leisure) to mixed-use comprising Class D1 (Place of Worship, Conference and Non Residential religious education and training centre) and Class D2 (Assembly and Leisure) use.

On 21 April 2016 the Planning Inspector comprehensively dismissed KICC’s appeal. 

This is a significant milestone in keeping the building available for proper, public entertainment use, as it should be.