Published: 09:28, 02 October 2020
| Updated: 13:01, 02 October 2020
The owners of the former ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells have put the land up for sale - casting further doubt on whether a proposed scheme for a new cinema, restaurants, shops and homes will ever get off the ground.
American-owned retirement homes specialist Elysian Properties is marketing the site through ADS Real Estate Advisors - with planning permission - for an asking price of £17m.
Elysian Residences renamed the 1.4 acre on the corner of Church Road and Mount Pleasant Road as "The Belvedere" but most people still refer to it as the ABC site - even though the cinema is long gone.
The site seems doomed to remaining a perpetual eyesore right in the heart of town.
Elysian was already the fifth owner since the cinema closed in the year 2000. The building was demolished in 2013.
Tunbridge Wells' council leader Alan McDermott said: "I am disappointed but not surprised to see the cinema site back on the market.
"We had put in a huge amount of work with the current owners to ensure a viable mixed-use scheme that included a cinema."
Cllr McDermott (Con) said: "Without a doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has made it very difficult for investors to commit to these types of development due to the economic, health and travel risk.
"Tunbridge Wells remains a great place to live and do business and we will work with the new owners to deliver a scheme that meets the needs and expectations of residents."
Lib Dem councillor Peter Lidstone said: "This came as a surprise to councillors, we had heard nothing in advance. But it's not a surprise in the sense that nothing has worked out on this site in the past 20 years!"
Cllr Lidstone said that although the general downturn in economic activity due to Covid may have had its effect on Elysian's decision, he believed the fact that the Hastings rail-line ran in a tunnel underneath the site may have been a factor.
He said: "I think when they delve into it, the developers find their schemes would be much harder to deliver than they think.
"Meantime we have a scar in the centre of town."
Cllr Lidstone suggested it was now time for the borough council to act.
He said: "The council has no powers to force the private sector to do something. Perhaps it's time he council purchased the site so that we can control its future.
"It could be used as a pop-up park for the time being, while we developed longer term plans, which should probably include shops, homes and a community use."
He said: "Unfortunately the Conservative administration in the borough were so concentrated on their failed Calverley Square project that they've taken their eyes off the ball in the town centre."
However, ADS Real Estate is encouraging potential buyers that more housing is the way to go.
The sales brochure says that although there is already permission for 108 homes "potential exists to optimise the existing residential consents and deliver significantly more units, subject to the necessary consents."