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Bid to restore cinema fails

The front of the former cinema in the town centre. Picture: MATT WALKER
The front of the former cinema in the town centre. Picture: MATT WALKER

A NIGHTCLUB rather than a new cinema looks set to be built on the site of the former ABC Cinema in Tunbridge Wells.

A planning inspector has given the go-ahead for a development of shops, food and drink outlets, a nightclub and housing to replace the dilapidated building in Mount Pleasant Road.

Tunbridge Wells council had previously rejected the plans because they did not include a new town centre cinema, something the council stipulated in its development brief for the site.

GLN (Copenhagen) Southern Ltd appealed to the Government inspector, who after a public hearing in the town has ruled in favour of the developers.

Issuing her decision, the inspector Laura Graham said: “I agree that the inclusion of a cinema within the redevelopment would bring benefits to the town and residents.

“Nonetheless, however desirable such a provision may be, I consider the failure to provide a town centre cinema will not significantly affect the current or future vitality and viability of the town centre as a whole.”

The ABC Cinema closed in 2000 after more than 50 years. There is now and out-of-town multi-screen complex at Knights Park, plus the Trinity Theatre cinema in Church Road.

The inspector acknowledged public support for a town centre cinema but said dismissing the appeal would leave the site with an uncertain future.

There is also the complication of a covenant on the site held by Odeon cinemas. The inspector questioned whether the council’s expectations for the site were realistic and said a cinema could still be built elsewhere in the town centre if a suitable site was found.

Ms Graham added: “I accept that a nightclub is likely to have a more restricted appeal...and is less likely to be open during the day. Nonetheless, it is one of a number of leisure uses that are commonly found within town centres and would contribute to the evening economy of the town.”

The former cinema lies within a conservation area, and Ms Graham said she was satisfied the new complex would not detract from the surrounding listed buildings.

She said: “The resultant building may not be to everyone’s taste, but to my mind it will enhance the character and appearance of this important site and the Conservation Area as a whole.”

Cllr Roy Bullock (Con) the portfolio holder for planning and transportation on TWBC, said: "The planning brief reflected the wishes of the local community and hence the inspector's decision must be a disappointment to our residents.

"We will once again test public opinion and site availability for a town centre cinema. However, we now look forward to the site being developed as soon as possible."

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