Town Hall Complex
London E17 4JS
Re. EMD/Granada Cinema: Planning application refs. 2012/0764 and 0765/LB
I wish to object to the above planning applications for the following reasons:
- Access to the main auditorium: The restriction of access for non-UCKG users to a minimum of 12 days per year effectively removes this space from the public domain, rendering bookings by regular event promoters and organisers unviable, as demonstrated at the Rainbow Theatre which has only screened 2 films in 13 years under UCKG ownership. The Locum report commissioned by Waltham Forest Council and published in 2010 refers to the main auditorium as the building’s “feature and reason for being”.
Proposed cinema provision: This is ill-proportioned, relegated to the fringes of the site, secondary to church use and limited to approximately half the floor space currently allocated for D2 use. The total capacity offered of 690 seats over 6 screens, with 2 screens containing only 55 seats each is wholly insufficient for a site of this size and prominent town centre location.
- Loss of the borough’s last major dedicated entertainment venue: These plans remove equipment (screen, flies, lighting etc.) vital to providing professional entertainment, depriving 225,000 Waltham Forest residents of the only flexible space capable of staging significant music, theatre and film events in the borough.
- Incompatible shared spaces: The Locum report states “many potential customers of the cinema are likely to feel uncomfortable about sharing the lobby area with the church congregation“ – which is a key part of these plans – and that “the two activities – worship and entertainment – are not a natural complement”.
- Inappropriate use of a listed building: Use of the main auditorium for regular worship is contrary to the building’s special historic interest, character and values, stated as “intimately connected with its design for use as a cinema” by English Heritage. Planning guidelines recommend the first option for a Grade IIlisted building such as this is under the purpose for which it was originally designed.
- Lack of viability, attraction and use: While cinema operators (including Curzon and City Screen), regeneration consultants (including Locum, Anthony Williams and Capita Symonds) and events promoters (including Phil McIntyre Entertainments) state the building has a viable future as a cinema-focussed multiple events venue, use of the bulk of the building for church activities may greatly reduce its potential attraction. This includes the conversion of street facing retail units into a Christian bookshop and training centre and the absence of a licensed bar or restaurant. The auditorium’s lower circle will be completely unused on a regular basis.
- Conflict with council strategies: The inability to use or access the main auditorium on a meaningful basis is unchanged from the previous applications which the council officer’s report noted “runs contrary to and do not complement regeneration strategies operating within the town centre to stimulate the daytime and evening economy”.
- Lack of consultation or community engagement: There has been no attempt made by UCKG to consult Waltham Forest residents on these plans, despite high levels of public interest. UCKG have also failed to fully engage or have a dialogue with residents, the council, cinema campaign groups or the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, either now or in the past.
- Similarity to previous proposals: The key aspect to these plans is the UCKG’s intention to use the majority of the building for church use; a proposal that was unanimously rejected by Waltham Forest Council in 2011 and had previously been rejected by the council in 2002 and on Appeal in 2003. The allocation of space for the congregation in the main auditorium is unaltered from the last plans, therefore the numerous reasons given for refusal previously remain valid in this case.
- Economic and social vitality: No data has been produced to credibly suggest church use has notable economic benefits. The 2003 Planning Appeal Inspectors report commented “nothing in the commercial life of that area appeared to benefit from the UCKG Helpcentre”. The use of the main auditorium for worship was noted in the 2011 council officer’s report as a “loss of vital asset to the economic, social and cultural heritage and life of local people”.
- Comparable cases: There are no examples of a hybrid church/cinema operation on this scale working successfully in the UK. UCKG do not operate their sites in this way. The only venue they previously proposed doing so – at Catford – ended without any cinema provision and left Lewisham as the only other London Borough without a cinema. Examples given by UCKG to support their plans (a refusal to convert an existing church into a ‘Wellness Centre’ and a refusal to allow a church group to relocate to an out of town location) are tenuous and invalid in this case.
- Traffic and parking: As the allocation of space for UCKG members is the same as the previous application, the issues of stress to local roads and burden on parking spaces will remain. Similar cases of church operation traffic issues (e.g. The Potters House Christian Centre, Folkestone Road and Kingsway International Christian Centre, Hoe Street) are already well documented in the local area.