Published: 13:47, 28 July 2020
| Updated: 15:03, 28 July 2020
Two beloved British actors have spoken out against the plans to regenerate Folkestone's historic Leas Pavilion by building nearly 100 flats above it.
A planning application to transform the neglected former theatre along The Leas was submitted at the end of April by developer Kantion, which plans to buy it subject to the project being approved.
The scheme - designed by Hollaway architects - seeks to return the Leas Pavilion, also known as the Leas Club and last used in 2010, to its former glory when it was first opened as an Edwardian tearoom in 1902.
This will see its former columns reinstated and improvements made to the gallery and main hall.
And with the rescue plan estimated to cost £4m, a nine-storey, glass fronted apartment block is proposed to be built around and above the sunken pavilion, incorporating the two adjacent car parks. This will help fund the restoration project.
In total, 91 flats are being proposed - all of which will have a balcony and sea view -, 39 car parking spaces and 91 cycling spaces.
The entrance to the flats will be through the Leas Pavilion, which will also be available for community use - and will be hired out to groups and clubs.
But in the months since the application appeared on Folkestone and Hythe District Council's planning portal, more than 70 comments from neighbours and consultees have been added - and reveal mixed reactions to the plans.
In addition, two respect thespians with previous links to the venue appear to have weighed into the debate.
A comment from Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes, who spoke out about saving the pavilion earlier this year, reads: "I wish to object to the scheme above to build flats and restore the Leas Pavilion.
"The theatre is a listed building, which the council should purchase and restore from public funds, an appeal and Lottery money, rather than betray the beauty of the town and desecrate its Edwardian symmetry. The lack of car parking for some of the flats makes the scheme absurd.
"The previous scheme was a much better, less extreme version and did have my support. But this current application should be refused; it would be bad for the town, inadequate for the residents and will destroy some current residents’ views and peace.
"Where is the council’s sense of aesthetics and responsibility? What a disgrace."
And a comment from Ian McKellen - believed to be the Lord of the Rings actor, who has also previously petitioned to save the pavilion - reads: "Although the first priority is to restore the pavillion so it can be used by locals and visitors as a place for meetings and performances, a secondary concern is the surrounding new buildings.
"I agree with those who find the nine-storey structure unsightly and unnecessarily tall."
Other objectors raise concerns the lack of parking, whether the renovated Leas Pavilion will be adequately sound-proofed, the dust created by its constriction and the size of the apartment block.
In her comment, Pat Cooks said: "There is an opportunity here to save The Leas Pavilion by building flats around and on top of it.
"Unfortunately, 90 flats is over development and cramming the site.
"Not taken in to account is the amount of traffic already using the access lanes around the site. The site is contained within a square and traffic funnels in and out of it from six directions."
Ms Cooks, who lives along The Leas, also raised fears about the height of the building: "We will literally be living in the shadows and I am anticipating a neck problem as I look out of my kitchen window to see if I can locate the sky."
Caroline Peach commented: "What is the benefit in trying to build a nine storey block and 45 additional parking in an area with no capacity for additional traffic.
"In an age of trying to reduce traffic pollution, this is going backwards in my opinion. The scale of this building is obviously too large for its position and with the surrounding roads."
John Lea's comment said: "Find a way to restore the Pavilion, which does not result in it sitting underneath the enormous weight of making money from luxury flats.
"Even though I am angry about this proposal I believe we have enough creative people in this community to get this right.
"It can be done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way."
But there are also comments in support.
Guyot du Repaire Frederic said: "I fully support the project and the design as it will be the last chance to save this building which has been left to decay for more than a decade.
"It is clear that the cost of saving and restoring this building is far too costly for the council. Unfortunately, the local community in Folkestone doesn't have the mean too and this private investment seems to be the last chance for the Pavilion.
"We are actually very lucky that with a deep recession looming, the developers have not decided to pull the project and their investment.
"Whoever will reject this project, will be responsible for the final destruction of the pavilion."
Matthew Herd, an architect said: "This is an opportunity to save a much loved building but also show the town and visitors that confident change is afoot.
"The town needs these quality developments and with difficult challenges ahead with the economy it would be short-sighted to reject this scheme."
Ingrid Kendall added: "Better to support and ensure the maintenance of the Leas Pavilion rather than allow it to fall into complete disrepair."
In addition, Friends of the Leas Pavilion, who have campaigned for the building to be brought back to life for years, are supporting the plans.
A decision on the application could come at the end of this month (July) according to the council's website.