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Mecca Bingo Hall on Ashford High Street will not be listed

ByCharlie Harman

A historic cinema building has failed to be listed, cementing its fate of partial demolition.

Despite a campaign by heritage bodies and borough residents, Ashford's former Mecca Bingo Hall has failed to meet Historic England's criteria to be listed.

The former Odeon cinema failed to be listed, progressing plans to partially demolish the Art Deco building. Picture: Ian Grundy
The former Odeon cinema failed to be listed, progressing plans to partially demolish the Art Deco building. Picture: Ian Grundy

The future of the High Street building, originally occupied by Odeon, was put in doubt when Ashford Borough Council revealed an ambitious town centre regeneration plan in February.

The Odeon Square proposal would see the historic structure partially demolished and replaced with an outdoor screen, food and retail units and 61 homes.

Vicarage Lane Car Park would also be built over, necessitating a new multi-storey car park on Station Road.

This controversial scheme was thrown in jeopardy when campaigners revealed they had initiated the procedure to get the 1936 cinema listed.

It was hoped by more than 3,000 residents that the site could be occupied by a theatre - the town centre's first - however these hopes were dashed at a council meeting in December.

Ashford Borough Council's plans for the town centre's regeneration

Unfortunately for the activists, Historic England returned their verdict last week that the building would not get that recognition.

Despite a number of criteria being met, including its importance to the area's history and people, it was found not to meet the necessary requirement for architectural importance.

In the conclusion of the Historic England report, the authority says: "though politely understated for its historic setting, the building’s architecture is not a strong or creative example of cinema design.

"The building’s interest as a little-altered provincial cinema of the inter-war period by an architect of note, is not sufficient to overcome its modest architectural quality."

The 1930s Odeon cinema closed on August 30, 1975 and was quickly taken over by the Top Rank Bingo Club. It later became Mecca Bingo, which shut its doors in July last year.

Historic England noted the High Street hall's interior was well-preserved. Picture: Ian Grundy
Historic England noted the High Street hall's interior was well-preserved. Picture: Ian Grundy

Ashford Borough Council chief executive Tracey Kerly said: “We’re pleased a decision has been made and we can now move forward with this project.

"We believe this scheme can help rejuvenate the town centre, enhance our cultural offer, create significant employment opportunities and help attract inward investment for the benefit of local communities.

"We are currently assembling a specialist design team to help us deliver this innovative development and we are on course to have this team in place by the end of the year.”

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

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