Published: 14:30, 10 August 2017
Frustrated cinema campaigners who claim they’ve been “fobbed off” for eight years have persuaded councillors to try to buy the Regent in Deal.
The recommendation to take steps towards a compulsory purchase order (CPO) was agreed at a packed three-hour public meeting at the town’s Astor Theatre, organised by Dover District Council’s scrutiny committee.
A CPO would give the council the power to buy the building without the owner's consent.
About 200 people were there including members of the Reopen the Regent pressure group who pushed for guarantees and protested that the saga was an “injustice”.
The committee sympathised and will now make a series of recommendations for action which will go before the cabinet on Monday, September 4.
Cllr Trevor Bond said: “We’ve been the nice guys, we haven’t been aggressive but the owners are just stringing us along.”
He suggested that the council immediately start looking for parties who might like to take over the Regent after a CPO as well as investigate a business plan.
Members also agreed to explore the feasibility, process, obstacles, costs – which could be six figures – and likelihood of success of a CPO.
The building in Beach Street was bought by Mark Digweed and James Wallace for £385,000 in 2010, with a covenant, which is not time limited, stating it must be a cinema or entertainment venue.
The two developers were unable to go to the meeting due to a holiday and a funeral.
They sent chief executive of the Dover District Chamber of Commerce, David Foley, on their behalf who revealed that they envisaged submitting a full planning application for a 240-seat cinema in early September, with 3D views in a matter of weeks.
Mr Foley said: “They are planning a cinema with four screens with space that can operate as a venue for folk music, jazz nights and stand up comedy providing entertainment for families.”
He said it contained no residential element and some documents such as a site waste management plan and KCC traffic assessment, if needed, weren’t yet completed.
He said: “They are keen to ensure that they do provide a venue that is genuinely fit for the elderly and disabled.”
Roger Walton, director of environment and corporate assets, said the district council had agreed to sell the owners part of the neighbouring car park to support their plans.
Mr Walton told the room he could understand people’s frustrations but he had no way of guaranteeing that the plans would come in September.
It was therefore added to the recommendations that in the event that no planning application for the Regent is submitted in September that the owners be requested to permit access to the site by representatives of the Reopen the Regent group so that they can start to develop a business case for the site.
A business case is vital to the success of a CPO.
Cllr Trevor Bartlett, portfolio holder for property management and public protection, said he had met the developers and thought they seemed “genuinely keen to open it as a cinema”.
Hearing the audience’s frustrations, he said: “I will try my hardest to make this happen and get a cinema for Deal. Let’s hope what they state will happen. If is doesn’t then we’ve got to take action.
“We can’t let this go on any longer.”
Other questions were asked about the misuse of the building as an office for the developer’s heating, ventilation and plumbing business as well as relevant rates.
Another recommendation was that officers investigate whether the correct business rates had been paid based on actual usage as offices for the Regent rather than based on the historic usage as a bingo hall.
The councillors made further recommendations for the leader of the council to chair a meeting between the owners and representatives of the Reopen the Regent group and the Deal Society.
The committee also want to encourage the owners to have more contact with ward councillors and community groups.
Chairman of the meeting Cllr Kevin Mills said: “I have no faith that they will do as they say.
“It will be difficult to get a CPO but the job of councillors is to try and find some way around this.
“It’s something that the cabinet has got to explore.”
Cllr Bob Frost was sceptical that any enforcement action can be taken.
He said: “In spite of everyone’s wishes and aspirations for the Regent site the scrutiny committee’s proposals will not make one jot of difference to any progress on Deal getting a cinema.
“The facts of the matter are, like them or not, that the site is privately owned and whilst the owner is only allowed to use the site for certain restricted uses (reflected in the purchase price) no one in the land can force him to do anything specific with it nor within any time frame. This is basic property law in the UK.
“Talk of a compulsory purchase order is pure fantasy. When I discussed it with the solicitor to the council this week he explained that DDC has had much experience of these with the St James site in Dover (DTIZ).
“They cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to apply for, take years to be processed through the courts and are only ever granted where there is an overwhelming public interest, for example to build a school or a motorway or, as in the case of Dover, completely redeveloping a town centre in accordance with the Local Plan.
"The idea one would be granted just because a group of people in Deal think they ‘need a cinema’ is laughable.
“Any councillor who claims that they, Dover District Council or anyone else has powers to force a resolution on this matter is either a fool or a liar.”
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