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Folkestone and Hythe District Council threaten Churchgate with Leas Pavilion takeover

By Sean Axtell

A council has threaten to takeover a listed Victorian tearoom after a developer allowed it to plunge into rack and ruin.

Folkestone and Hythe District Council's shot across the bow comes as Churchgate has failed to carry out works on Folkestone's stricken Leas Pavilion.

Previously, the Essex based developer was given permission to overhaul the Grade II former theatre into a health club with 68 flats, but it missed the deadline.

Leas PavilionThe Leas, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM4064858 (7753103)
Leas PavilionThe Leas, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM4064858 (7753103)

Now, the council has issued a legal repairs notice detailing six pages of works necessary to protect the building and preserve it for the future.

If it is not completed by the deadline, the council can ask the Secretary of State to issue a compulsory purchase order, meaning it could buy the building.

Council leader David Monk said: “The Leas Pavilion is a hugely important heritage asset to the district and we have tried to work with the owners to safeguard it and stop it falling into a worse state of repair.

Leas Pavilion (Club) The Leas, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2925611 (7753116)
Leas Pavilion (Club) The Leas, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2925611 (7753116)

“This repairs notice signals our determination to take all steps permitted by law to protect the building and we will continue to take action until the situation is resolved.

"We understand what the Leas Pavilion means to our residents and we share desire for something to be done to protect it.

“We also feel the local community’s frustration that there is no quick fix.

“The fact the council has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a repairs notice illustrates our commitment to protecting the building and preserving it for the future.”

The new Leas Pavilion shown here in 1904 - just two years after it opened: Courtesy Folkestone and District Local History Society
The new Leas Pavilion shown here in 1904 - just two years after it opened: Courtesy Folkestone and District Local History Society

The former Edwardian tearoom and theatre has been empty since 2008, and planning permission was previously granted for a development including flats and a gym.

But that has since expired and no new plans have been submitted by the owners.

The Victorian Society and Save Britain’s Heritage have both included the pavilion in a list of buildings that are ‘at risk’ nationally.

The Radnor Estate sold the Leas Pavilion and surrounding land to Churchgate in 2007 for £3.2 million on a 150 year lease.

It led to the campaign group Friends of the Leas Pavilion (FLP) being formed in an attempt to keep the old Victoria tearoom as a community space.

An artist's impression of the redevelopment around the Leas Pavilion: Courtesy Churchgate
An artist's impression of the redevelopment around the Leas Pavilion: Courtesy Churchgate

It is now headed up by chairman Liz Mulqueen, who has enlisted the help of Comedian Vic Reeves and Eastenders actress June Brown to raise awareness of the building's heritage.

They are in the process of trying to obtain a 100-year lease from Churchgate.

She said: “All we want is for the developer to grant us a 100 year lease on the building so we can restore it into a community space to serve the whole town.

"We have a viable business plan we are willing to show to the developer, we are confident we can make the project work.

An artist's impression of the redevelopment around the Leas Pavilion: Courtesy Churchgate
An artist's impression of the redevelopment around the Leas Pavilion: Courtesy Churchgate

“If we were to run it we would set it up as a film hub, also there would be retail space we could lease out to traders."

The pavilion first opened as tearooms in 1902.

The reason for it being sunk into the street was the ‘ancient lights’ clause in leases for hotels on either side meaning no building could be built more than 7ft above street level.

This was to ensure daylight would not be blocked from these buildings.

After its time as a tearooms, the building was converted into a theatre until its closure in 1985.

Its last incarnation was as a nightclub before the venue shut its doors in 2010.

The pavilion was Folkestone’s first cinema in 1911, was used by soldiers billeted in Folkestone during the First World War, and was the town’s last repertory theatre.

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