Development of the ABC Cinema Site
Mount Pleasant Road / Church Road, Tunbridge Wells

Royal Tunbridge Wells - the former Ritz or ABC Cinema (empty since 2000), surrounded by empty shops - hoarding without History Panels

Royal Tunbridge Wells - the former Ritz or ABC Cinema (empty since 2000), surrounded by empty shops - (KM/2008)

Royal Tunbridge Wells - the former Ritz or ABC Cinema (empty since 2000), surrounded by empty shops - (KM/2008)

Royal Tunbridge Wells - the former Ritz or ABC Cinema (empty since 2000), surrounded by empty shops - (KM/2008)

The Ritz Building - The deteriorating ABC Cinema Site - since December 2000

These are the views when you come out of the Town Hall, cross Church Road or Mount Pleasant Road (2008 and 2014).

The former ABC Cinema in the Ritz Building has been empty since December 2000.
Unfortunately Tunbridge Wells Borough Council had not the vision to acquire the site.

At the beginning of the saga there was much coverage in the Local Press about officers staging an exhibition to ask residents what they need and want. Options were: residential, nightclub, department store, cinema.
When residents wanted a cinema, it was revealed that under a covenant it was impossible to comply with their request!

— What will happen with the site above the railway tunnel ?
— How big is the negative impact of this deteriorating site in the town centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells?

This is the CHRONICLE of Royal Tunbridge Wells' top 'Grot Spot'
(press coverage since 2002)

The cinema is empty for , - since December 2000.


Times of Tunbridge Wells - 24 April 2019
Mixed reaction to the surprise sale of cinema site for retirement apartments - by Richard Williams

'New plans include fewer retail units and larger flats for 'older people''

THE company that was developing the much-maligned former ABC Cinema site at the top of Mount Pleasant Road, has sold off the land to a retirement home developer. And this week there's been mixed reaction.

Altitude bought the infamous 'grot spot' in 2016 and unveiled plans to convert the derelict land into a mixed-use development that would feature more than 100 homes, a boutique cinema, along with shops and a restaurant.

Progress on the Belvedere project has been slow, and despite telling the Times earlier this year that work would begin during the summer, it was announced last week that Altitude has sold the plot to retirement home developer Elysian Residencies for an undisclosed sum.

Elysian, the sixth company to own the site, say that the Belvedere project is still going ahead, but with 'minor revisions'.

A spokesperson for the council said: "This high profile scheme will join other major developments planned for the town bringing investment and wider economic benefits to those who live, work-in and visit our borough." Council Leader David Jukes admitted that thew Elysian scheme was 'not exactly' what he 'would have wanted in the site'. "However, I am assured that Elysian have the funds to carry out their ambitions," he added. "And also of equal comfort is the fact that they reckon they can start at the end of this current year and get the job finished in two years."

If this is the case it would be ahead of the project completion date set by Altitude.

With council elections taking place on May 2 the sale has become political:
The Lib Dems believe that 'commercial entities will continue to buy the site, explore possibilities and then sell it on when they decide it isn't economically viable.'
Labour take the view that 'Elysian Residencies build top-end, expensive homes for the elderly'.
Tunbridge Wells Alliance 'are opposed in principle to the conversion of commercial premises in the centre of our towns to residential accommodation'.

A spokesman for Elysian told the Times this week that no new planning application will be sought, which would have delayed any building work. He said: "Elysian Residences is not putting in a fresh planning application - instead they are proposing to work within the existing planning consent to deliver the Belvedere scheme, which was given planning consent by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in February 2018. "All Elysian Residences are proposing is a number of minor revisions in order to update the scheme."

The company builds primarily retired living accommodation but also develops mixed-use schemes. It said that retail will remain a 'central and key element' to the scheme, but admitted there will be less space for shops as there will be a reallocation of accommodation on the upper floors and the proposed apartments will be larger. These bigger apartments, admit the company, are aimed at the over 65 'downsizer', and not younger property buyers. And while the company claim the cinema will remain a 'central part of the scheme', there will be fewer retail units because the revised plans will see the removal of the upper level of shops.

Elysian say this 'has been driven by the current challenging commercial environment' and that the old scheme would 'not be in keeping with the current retail environment'. The new revised plans will also see some 'community amenities' including a 3,000 sq ft restaurant/café on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road. The development will still cost around £80 million to build and will generate between 20-30 full time jobs both during construction and long term operations. Additional employment will be generated by the new retail units, restaurant and cinema.

Mark Curry, Head of Development and Planning at Elysian Residences said: "For nearly 20 years this important mixed-use development site in the heart of Tunbridge Wells has remained vacant and unused. "Elysian Residences are confident, once the changes are approved, of delivering a vibrant mixed-use scheme for the people of the Royal Town of Tunbridge Wells to be proud of, containing an exciting and much demanded retail offering, along with exceptional homes for the older residents of Tunbridge Wells, in heart of town, where they can enjoy an unrivalled lifestyle." He continued: "Unlike a developer who builds, sells and moves onto a new site, Elysian Residences creates schemes where we remain active operators, directly managing the staff and amenities within our projects. "Therefore with the Belvedere project we will invest in and participate in the Tunbridge Wells community for the long run."

The news will be welcomed by many in the town. The ABC Cinema closed down nearly 20 years ago, and attempts to build on the plot of land, has been fraught with delays ever since.


Times of Tunbridge Wells - 30 January 2019
Years of frustration set to end as start on cinema site announced - by Richard Williams

'Many of the delays have been due to the unique nature of the site, which sits above the tunnels'

DEVELOPERS behind the muchmaligned former ABC Cinema site, which has been described as a 'blight' on Tunbridge Wells town centre, have pledged that bulldozers will soon begin their work. Attempts to build on the plot of land, which has been abandoned since 2000, have been fraught with delays.

The site has changed hands numerous times over the years. Current owners Altitude Real Estate, who bought the patch of ground at the top of Mount Pleasant Road in 2016, have pushed back the start date for work to commence at least twice. Now the £80million Belvedere project - which will see at least 99 homes and a boutique cinema, along with shops and restaurants, built on the derelict location - has taken a step forward, with the firm behind the development pledging that building work will 'begin in the summer' (2019).

The Times also understands more announcements are planned in the coming weeks, including who will be behind the building of the promised near-100 apartments.

Speaking to the Times, Stephen Tillman, Director of Altitude, said: "You will start to see some activity at the beginning of summer, with the real building work to begin at the tail end of the season. We do apologise for the delays, but these things take time to sort out with tenders and contracts and so forth. "But residents will be pleased to hear that progress is being made."

He explained that many of the delays have been due to the unique nature of the site, which sits above the tunnels coming in to Tunbridge Wells station.

"Before construction can start on the site, a range of work has been ongoing in the background, including surveys, work with Network Rail and public rights of way. Work is currently underway to further refine the design and, following positive discussions, we are hopeful that we will shortly be in a position to announce some more exciting news that will bring forward the delivery of the scheme. Over the coming months, more information will be released as the detailed design progresses, with the anticipation of a start on site during the summer months."

The news will come as a relief to many in the town, including local MP Greg Clark, who complained that the site had 'blighted the centre of the town' for far too long. The Belvedere will be a mixed-use development, which planners say will complement the other major developments in the town, including the council's Calverley Square project. It is expected to be completed sometime in 2021, and Altitude are aiming to get local people involved in the final plans.


Former ABC Cinema Site - TWBC Special Planning Committee
Wednesday 24 October 2017

The Officer's RECOMMENDATION to GRANT Planning Consent (subject to conditions) was followed by the Councillors (11 present; 8 in favour, 3 against)

Planning Officer's (Lynda Middlemiss) Report to Councillors of the TWBC Planning Committee (80 pages)
including "Developers Contributions" (Section 106 monies - p.65)

Planning Application Documents for GROT SPOT No.1 "Former ABC Cinema Site Mount Pleasant Road Royal Tunbridge Wells Kent TN1 1PN"


KentLive.News - 31 August 2017
People are trying to derail the latest plans for the ABC cinema site - by Gabriel Shepard

A long-awaited plan to redevelop Tunbridge Wells' biggest eyesore could be thwarted over claims it is too big and too boring. An application to build a seven-storey complex at the site of the former ABC cinema was submitted in July - 17 years after the attraction closed. The proposal, by Prime Finance (Tunbridge Wells), would feature 108 flats, 60,000 sq ft of shops and restaurants and a cinema. But residents are calling on the council to reject the plans.

In a letter to planners chairman of Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society Alistair Tod said: "We are deeply concerned that after a long delay the submitted scheme is so unsatisfactory." Of particular concern, he said, was the high ratio of residential to commercial space, the building's intrusive presence, "bland" architecture and a lack of commitment to affordable housing.

The society's position has been endorsed by the influential Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum. Its management committee has said it is also disappointed its consultation with the developer did "not seem to have been taken into account".

Another of the plan's critics is award-winning Tunbridge Wells architect Stuart Page who has urged Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to reject it. He said: "The brutally rectangular block part way down Mount Pleasant owes more to industrial building than to a spa town centre where careful humane scale detailing should be accepted practice. "Overall the design is a disappointing betrayal of all the positive reassurances that the new owners offered on purchase of the site. "My comments are not intended to encourage a poor pastiche of historic style but Tunbridge Wells deserves better than this and as such the application should be refused planning consent."

Meanwhile, the site's neighbours have enlisted the help of expert planning consultants to get the existing proposal thrown out or amended. Niomi Twigg, of ASP Planning and Development Consultancy, said while her clients wanted the site to be regenerated, the current proposal must be scaled back to meet legal requirements. She wrote: "When the former ABC cinema was located on the site, the frontage onto Church Road was two storeys, stepping back to four storeys in the lower parts of the site. "In this instance the tallest building has been located on the highest point of the site (the frontage onto Church Road) which is entirely inappropriate to the context of the site in the town and the scale, form and layout of the locality."

Before the plans were submitted the developers held consultations with the community. 'Our development team has spent a considerable amount of time and effort considering the very valuable feedback' Stephen Tillman, director of Altitude which is acting for Prime Finance, said last month: "Since then, our development team has spent a considerable amount of time and effort in considering all the very valuable feedback we received and integrating many of the suggestions into our proposals. "These included incorporating a water feature, a reduction in height and changes to the proposed building at the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road, the addition of a cinema and the use of complementary materials on the facades of the buildings."

The plans are expected to go before Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's planning committee later this year.


Former ABC Cinema Site - PLANNING APPLICATION submitted -
Wednesday 12 July 2017 (application validated by TWBC) and
Friday 11 August 2017 (original deadline to submit comments to TWBC)

A new planning application has been made in respect of the former cinema site in the centre of the town (Church Road/Mount Pleasant).
The deadline date for commenting on this major planning application has been EXTENDED until 31 August 2017. The reason is because two important documents - relating to the "Design and Access Statement" (in two parts, 126 pages) - were submitted at a later stage.

Cinema Site application 2017 - documents
("Planning Statement", "Townscape and Visual Impact Assessment","Heritage Statement", "Townscape and Visual Impact Assessment")


Times of Tunbridge Wells - Wednesday 12 July 2017
"From eyesore to hotspot?"" - by Adam Hignett

Taking shape
The proposed 'Belvedere' development on the old cinema site

Could the 17 year saga surrounding the old cinema site soon be over? Residents will be forgiven for having a healthy dose of scepticism when posed the question, but there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel. Altitude UK, which purchased the 1.3 acre Tunbridge Wells plot in April last year, 2016, submitted an application for planning permission on Friday (7 July 2017) for a new development. They believe it will 'completely transform' that part of town. In a move that is likely to be praised by stakeholder groups and societies, numerous issues raised in the public consultation that took place last year (2016) have been addressed in the latest proposals published.

Named 'The Belvedere' the planned development will include more than 60,000 sq.ft of street level shops, podium level cafés and restaurants and a 'boutique' style cinema. In addition there will also be a medical centre or offices and 108 contemporary apartments with dedicated parking and communal, landscaped garden area.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council confirmed their receipt of the application, which they expect to have validated and available for public view on their website by July 17, 2017.

Short CHRONICLE of Royal Tunbridge Wells' top grot spot:

2005: GLN sells up to Irish developers Rydell Properties.

2008: An application was submitted on behalf of Rydell Properties, for another mixed use development with the inclusion of hotel rooms. Conservation Area Consent to demolish the decaying buildings was granted. But the project is taken no further as the credit crunch leads to the distressed company's assets being seized by Ireland's National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

( 2009: In order to camouflage the 'grot spot' - hoardings with prints of old engravings and old postcards (displaying the area surrounding the grot spot) were erected in December 2009 )

2011: NAMA sells the site to the Carlyle Group for £11.5 million, including VAT. London Developers Bellhouse Joseph are brought on board.

2013: The council moves to sue Bellhouse Joseph for a figure close to £465,000 over unpaid business rates. The developer opted not to contest the figure and a settlement was made meaning no enforcement action was necessary. The debt was paid by August the following year, 2014, alongside £22,000 in legal costs.

2014: Old cinema building is finally demolished and hoardings are erected.

2015: The site goes on the market again and in October it is rumoured that Bellhouse Joseph is seeking to acquire full ownership.

2016: In January the deal with Bellhouse Joseph falls through as an unnamed hotel group decided to withdraw from the project. In April 2016, Altitude UK purchase the plot and begin public consultation.

2017: The latest application is submitted on 7 July 2017. Stephen Tillman (Director of Altitude UK) had previously told the Times of Tunbridge Wells construction was expected to take around two years, meaning a likely date for completion in 2020.


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - week ending 23 February 2014
Long-running saga over Tunbridge Wells “grot spot” could soon be at an end - by Marijke Cox / Chris Britcher

Utter the words ‘cinema site’ in the town of Tunbridge Wells and you’ll see a community collectively wince. A sorry tale has surrounded the former Odeon cinema, and it has become the Achilles heel of a local population which has long since developed a reputation of intense pride in its heritage and surroundings. Closed in 2000, Odeon shut the former three-screen site down after it built a state-of-the-art multiplex on the North Farm estate, on the edge of the town. A convenant prevented the buildling from being used as a cinema in the future. And so the problems began.

Despite being a prime site located at the very crossroads of where the upper and lower parts of the town converge, and overlooking the Town Hall itself, the old building has spent the last 14 years deteriorating – boarded up and unused – with any hopes of a bright future dashed as the recession took hold. It has been dubbed the spa town’s greatest ‘grot spot’ – a blot on the landscape where the local architecture is so engrossing and so often its calling card. Sold several times, but leading to nothing, it means any potential change in fortunes is met with some cynicism. But, this week, there was a tiny spark of light spotted on the horizon. This possible ray of hope comes in the form of a Section 215 notice, issued on the site’s owners, Carlyle and Bellhouse, by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. A legal document, it calls for the old cinema to be demolished and the land cleared in the next six months, leaving it in a “safe and tidy” state. It could, finally, after almost years of false dawns, empty promises and relentless disappointment, signal the end of the cinema saga. Or, at least, the first stage of it.

“The challenge is to see it demolished,” said Ben Chapelard, councillor for the local Liberal Democrats, main opposition to the ruling Conservatives. It set up a petition demanding the borough council take some form of action against the owners. Around 4,000 people signed up, with more and more joining the list each day. Although the land is not owned by the council, the Lib Dems have turned the saga into a political hot potato. A cash-strapped council hesitant to intervene on private, commercial, land, but also in the firing line from opponents which insist, for the good of the town, it must.

Mr Chapelard said he was pleased a Section 215 had been issued, but warned it could still be overturned by the owners. “They have until March 21 to appeal against the demolition order,” he said. “Otherwise they have six months to complete the demolition and leave it nice and tidy. I don’t know if they will appeal, it’s their right to do so. But they have made noises in the past about demolishing it all by March. If they are serious about making a commitment to our town they need to start the process. If they don’t appeal, it will be a clear sign of their commitment.” The owners confirmed to KoS this week their intention was to start work at the end of March and were currently assessing the Section 215. But a cautious Mr Chapelard said it had been a frustrating journey so far. I’m cautiously optimistic this is real progress, but let’s get them to clear up the site first,” he said. The challenge is to see it demolished. Let’s not faff about in the law courts.”

He stressed he was pushing to get figures to see how much it would cost to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the owners which would force them to relinquish the site to the council. He added: “There’s no point the owners clearing the site and then just sitting on it until it’s profitable. A CPO would ensure some movement. The leader of the council guessed it would cost around £40 million. We’re trying to get some true figures.”

Mr Chapelard accused the Conservatives on Tunbridge Wells council of “scaremongering” and demanded the authority use its powers to take action. The old cinema site, however, is arguably more complicated than your average development. It sits on the top of a hill of which at the bottom is the town’s railway station. Beneath is the rail tunnel used to get train services to London and back – a key commuter corridor and an important transport link for the town. It means any major work on the cinema carries a risk should anything go wrong with the demolition and rebuild. This means a hefty price tag to ensure it is carried out safely. Carlyle and Bellhouse has been looking to secure a major tenant prior to demolition work getting under way. But both a budget hotel chain and, more recently, a supermarket – thought to be Waitrose – had wanted the site prepared prior to any deal. Thus a catch-22 leaves the site in a perpetual state of limbo.

Katharina Mahler-Bech, whose late husband Daniel was founding member of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Forum, is calling on strong leadership at the council to make things happen. Dr Bech and his wife tirelessly campaigned to clear up what they first termed ‘grot spots’, of which the cinema site is regarded as number one. Mrs Mahler-Bech remains hopeful, however, that something will one day happen. “It’s a long process and I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” she told KoS. The problem is the developers might just appeal and then they get away with it all over again. But at least this time the council is using its powers – it’s a step forward. We’ve waited a long time.”

She said all it takes is someone at the council to stand up and “have the courage” to do something. “I don’'t know why the council hasn’'t done this before,” she said, referring to the Section 215 order. It’ is a private site, that’'s the problem, but it' is no good for Tunbridge Wells, it’ is no good for the economy, so it’ is an issue for the council too. But it’ is the petitions and pressure from people in Tunbridge Wells which has really helped.” She admitted she won'’t walk on the side of the road of the cinema site anymore, describing the hoarding as unattractive and obtrusive.

Mrs Mahler-Bech said, however, that didn't stop people questioning the staunch campaigner about what is happening. People are disillusioned; I live in the middle of the town and everyone always asks me ‘any news?’. If there is an appeal there will just be more delays. If they do appeal, we’ll just be waiting again.”

It is a view very much echoed by local Conservative MP Greg Clark. He told us: “The owners have failed to meet countless self-imposed deadlines so I am pleased the borough council has issued a Section 215 Notice requiring a demolition. Residents of, and visitors to, Tunbridge Wells have put up with this eyesore for too long. It has continued to deteriorate in the hands of numerous owners so the council is quite right to serve this order now. However, I will keep up pressure on the owners and take nothing for granted until I see the site demolished and a replacement under way.”

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is naturally being cautious over the Section 215. Until that 28 days is up, it is like the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over its head, and so the authority is not celebrating too soon. But Ben Chapelard has no sympathy. "The council has a ‘can’t do’ attitude,” he said. Now that we’ve started this petition, they have had to stop making excuses.” The local auithority said in November a Section 16 had been served on the owners, requiring them to give information in advance of the Section 215 notice.

A council spokesman said: “In response, the owners stated a commitment to demolish the site, with the expectation that work could begin in the spring. “The Section 215 notice means the owners of the site can fulfill their commitment.”

The site on Mount Pleasant Road was sold in a deal worth £10m in 2011, to a Luxembourg subsidiary of global private equity firm the Carlyle Group, acting through a joint venture with developer Bellhouse Joseph in London. But despite plans for a Premiere Inn budget hotel – met with some resistance from the community – and then a supermarket, nothing has materialised.?At the time of the sale, the council was pushing ahead with plans for a CPO, but despite pressure from campaigners, this has yet to be done. Until they see movement on the site – and someone move in – it’s unlikely anyone will be holding their breath. If one thing is clear, it’s how disillusioned people are becoming.

Leader of the council, David Jukes, however, is remaining optimistic. “I am delighted the planning committee approved the serving of the Section 215 notice,” he said.

Carlyle and Bellhouse, confirmed to KoS they had received the notice. “We will respond to the council once we have made a full assessment, but are not in a position to comment further on its contents at this stage,” a spokesman said. In the meantime, we are finalising the appointment of a demolition contractor and progressing our negotiations with Natural England regarding the future welfare and safety of a colony of bats nesting in the premises, and Network Rail, all of which need to be concluded before we can confirm the demolition timetable. It remains our intention to start work by the end of March.”


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - week ending 27 January 2012

It's taken nearly 12 years and been the subject of a host of false dawns, but finally a date has been proposed to pull down the town’s most infamous grot spot – but don’t get too excited just yet.

The former ABC Cinema on Mount Pleasant has stood abandoned since 2000 when it was closed. But having been snapped up by developers last year in a £10 million deal, two applications have been submitted to the council to pull the eye-sore down. The first, which seeks permission to work in a designated conservation area, has been given the green light. But the second, which outlines details of the demolition process, has been heldup by a glitch on behalf of those submitting the request. It is currently ‘pending’ and due for an imminent decision. Developers had proposed work begin on February 13, concluding some three months later, on May 11. As a result of the hold-up, however, those dates may be pushed back. However, it is the closest the town has ever been to finally getting rid of the blot on the landscape which has dogged it for more than a decade.

A spokesperson for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said: “Quite what the impact will be on the developers’ plans, we’re not sure, but residents can rest assured we are doing everything possible to ensure this reaches a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.” In addition to the redundant cinema, the site includes the retail sites formerly occupied by Pizza Hut, Gamleys and the Gourmet Burger Bar. Clanricarde House and Hill House are located at the rear of the site.

Katharina Mahler-Bech who, along with her late husband Daniel, coined the phrase ‘grot spot’ said: “I’m pleased but it’s been too long. People have got old since it has stood empty. We started our campaign in 2005 and look how long we have had to wait.”

But workmen will find a few challenges in their path. The documents warn of “pigeon and rat infestation” being “well advanced” and a full “invasive asbestos survey” to be undertaken. It adds: “Full controls to prevent the risk of disease of contagion during the demolition process will be undertaken.” The cinema has stood empty since it was closed by Odeon in 2000. It shut up shop to focus on its out-of-town multiplex – leaving a covenant on the site preventing it from being used as a cinema. Since then it has been the subject of enormous debate and three different owners. One major scheme was scuppered by the economic slump, which resulted in it going back on the market in May 2010. Among the bidders was the borough council – but it failed to make the shortlist which was finally decided last August. Successive leaders have been desperate to see the town lose the eyesore which overlooks the civic complex. The site was bought by a Luxembourg subsidiary of private equity firm the Carlyle Group, acting through a joint venture with London-based developer Bellhouse Joseph. The developer vowed to have the site demolished within 12 months of it taking over when it concluded the sale last summer. What will go in its place has not yet been confirmed, but the developer said it had been in talks with Premier Inn over building a budget hotel.


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - week ending 13 November 2011

GROT SPOT : The old cinema

MP Greg Clark has given a cautious welcome to a planning application submitted to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to flatten the town’s best known ‘grot spot’ – the deserted cinema site.

Council chiefs this week confirmed a planning application from developers Bellhouse Joseph had been received, seeking permission to demolish the existing building. The developers snapped up the site in August in a £10 million joint deal with a venture capital company. It has stood empty since 2000 when the Odeon cinema shut its doors for the final time. Since then, it has changed hands a number of times, but plans have never reached fruition, making it one of the town’s political hot-potatoes. So desperate were council chiefs to finally bring the long-running saga to an end, it vowed to serve a compulsory purchase order unless action was swift to transform it. That threat, despite the recent purchase and discussions with the owners of Premier Inn to open a venue on the site, remains hanging in the air should the new owners not carry out their promises.

Council leader Bob Atwood described the application as “a great step forward”. He said: “For 11 years we have had to put up with a derelict cinema in the heart of our town. During this time we have heard from a string of developers about their intentions for the site, none of which have come to fruition. “The site has become notorious and I consider it very good news to learn that, subject to planning permission, it could soon be removed. “The borough council has been working hard behind the scenes to do all it can to rid the town of its grot spots. Already we are looking forward to the refurbishment and reopening of Morrisons and now we could be seeing the beginning of the end of the cinema saga.”

It is expected the outcome of the application will be known in around three months. Specific plans for after demolition have not yet been submitted, and Cllr Atwood said that the council will continue to work with the developer to help ensure progress does not stall.

Meanwhile, MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, said he remains cautious at this stage: “It is encouraging that things are, at last, moving on the cinema site. “However, I take a cautious view until I see the actual plans on the proposed replacement. This is one of the most high profile sites in Tunbridge Wells and I will be keeping up the pressure for a new building that is worthy of our town’s architectural glories.”


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - Friday, 19 August 2011 12:27

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council chiefs say they are to continue to push ahead with plans for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the derelict cinema site ...

Cllr David Jukes expresses fears for future of Tunbridge Wells grot spot

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council chiefs say they are to continue to push ahead with plans for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the derelict cinema site - despite it being sold this week in a £10million deal. The town’s number one grot spot has stood abandoned since 2000 when cinema operator Odeon closed it down. Since then, there have been a number of false dawns, but it remains a major eye-sore right in the centre of the town and opposite the Town Hall buildings.

Townsfolk have been united in their condemnation of the lack of action on the site - with council chiefs seething that such a prime site in the heart of the town remains unused and boarded up. As a result, earlier this year it vowed to push ahead with a CPO in order for something to happen on the land - a move which created much debate. Discussions have included creating a blend of civic and commercial - and even the potential for a re-sited war memorial. Former mayor and cabinet member for property and major projects, David Jukes, says he remains “cautiously pessimistic” about the new owner’s plans.

Speaking to us this morning, he said: “The site has been sold three time in the past and nothing has happened, so we are continuing with the process of a CPO so we can move if we have to. “I hope the new owners intend to come up with some good ideas but that remains to be seen. “All I have heard is that they intend to build a convenience store there with an underground car park.” Cllr Jukes, who has a business background in the building industry, sparked much debate with his own ambitious plans for the site which envisages a cultural hub for the 6,200-square metre space including a museum, art gallery and theatre with a sculpture garden and water feature; a plan broadly welcomed by those who have closely followed the on-going saga of the site and the town centre regeneration plans.

It is understood the new buyers, a Luxembourg subsidiary of the Carlyle Group acting through a joint venture with Bellhouse Joseph in London, were not involved in the early bidding for the site, which, at first, included the council itself. Despite an under offer sign appearing on the building in January, the latest buyer fell out in June. It is believed agents Savills - appointed to handle the sale - brought the new owners on board.

Earlier today, the council issued a short statement saying it looked forward to working with the new owners. Cllr Jukes, however, remains anxious. Cllr Jukes added: “The chief finance officer has done a background check on the company and apart from a development in the West End in London about seven or eight years ago, they don’t appear to have been very active.”

The Carlyle Group is a global asset management firm, specializing in private equity, based in Washington, DC. Chairman of its European arm is former Prime Minister John Major. Bellhouse Joseph are a UK-based development company. Cllr Jukes says: “I cannot see them putting a great deal into a cinema site in Tunbridge Wells. But I may be wrong. We were all delighted when the under offer signs went up in January but nothing has happened. “Rather than cautious optimism, I’d say I was cautiously pessimistic. “Former owners Rydell had great plans for the site and looked what happened then. “Of course, if it starts knocking it down in three months time then that will be something but if they were to say work would begin in two years time, then I still think that’s too long to wait.”

Any new owner faces a tough construction challenge. A railway tunnel runs beneath the site, making demolition and rebuilding of the site one which will incur greater cost in a bid not to impact on services running from Tunbridge Wells railway station to London


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - Friday, 19 August 2011 10:14

Tunbridge Wells’ number one grot spot - the former cinema site - has finally been sold in a deal worth £10million. The site, which has stood empty since 2000, has sold the site on Mount Pleasant Road to a Luxembourg subsidiary of global private equity firm The Carlyle Group, acting through a joint venture with developer Bellhouse Joseph in London.

But as yet things appear no clearer as to the long-term future of the site, with developers keeping plans close to their chest. The sale was completed by agents Savills, working on behalf of receivers appointed by the Anglo Irish Bank. The site comprises of the redundant ABC Cinema, which includes the retail sites formerly occupied by Pizza Hut, Gamleys and the Gourmet Burger Bar. Clanricarde House and Hill House are located at the rear of the site.

Julian Clarke, head of fixed charge receivership at Savills, comments: “This was a complex transaction in what is a very high profile site for Tunbridge Wells. The team and NAMA were delighted to conclude the transaction with Carlyle and Bellhouse Joesph.”

The site was granted planning consent in 2009 for the demolition of all existing buildings and the redevelopment of up to 300,000 sq ft (27,870 sq m) of mixed use facilities.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which has threatened to serve a compulsory purchase order on the site unless steps were taken towards its redevelopment, said: “We look forward to working with the purchaser for their plans for the site.”


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - week ending Sunday 14 August 2011
Cultural hub plans welcomed to improve cinema grot spot - by Jenna Pudelek

People in Tunbridge Wells have welcomed the deputy council leader’s ideas to trawnsform the derelict cinema site into a community and cultural hub. Cllr David Jukes, portfolio holder for property and major projects, revealed his concept for the Mount Pleasant Road grot spot, which includes a museum, art gallery and theatre. His ideas have drawn from the past with an iconic building inspired by the prehistoric High Rocks and a water feature nodding to the town’s spa status. Cllr Jukes said he welcomed any input from residents and local organisations.

Resident Edward Baker said the concept was “visionary, exciting and worthy of any forward- looking town”. However, he was concerned that Cllr Jukes wanted to use the site as a replacement for the current Town Hall.

Meanwhile, Katharina Mahler-Bech said the idea to include civic functions on the site was what she and her late husband, Daniel, a founding member of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum, had long-envisaged. In 2004, Mr Bech saw the potential for redevelopment of the former ABC cinema to include modern, purpose-built Town Hall facillities.

Another resident congratulated Cllr Jukes on his ideas saying they hoped the plans would be supported by the council, adding “the sooner the better”.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s administration sees the cinema site as a top priority and has revealed its intentions to renew its offer for the buildings. It is also investigating the possibility of imposing a compulsory purchase order. A last-minute bid was put in for the site by the council last summer, but it was unsuccessful. Agent Savills had been marketing the property for offers in excess of £8 million.

The Town Centre Cinema Debate / Daniel Bech 2004


Kent News / Your Tunbridge Wells - on Thursday 4 August 2011

Deputy leader reveals ideas for Tunbridge Wells’ top ‘grot spot’

Inspired by the prehistoric High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells council’s deputy leader has revealed his concept for the derelict cinema site. David Jukes, who is also portfolio holder for property and major projects, envisages a cultural hub for the 6,200-square metre space including a museum, art gallery and theatre with a sculpture garden and water feature. His drawings, which he was at pains to point out did not cost Tunbridge Wells Borough Council a penny, offer a remembrance garden for the war memorial and room for a council chamber, offices and meeting rooms. Cllr Jukes spoke of his desire to see the infamous ‘grot-spot’ replaced by an iconic building, which serves a civic function and is very much open to the public. The council has been clear about its intention to get its hands on the former ABC cinema site and its leaders are now losing patience. The council put in a last minute bid for the site last summer, which Savills had been marketing for offers in excess of £8million, but was unsuccessful.

"It has been left for 11 years," Cllr Jukes said. "If we are going to buy the site or re-new our offer, we need to put something there which is of benefit to the citizens of the town, a civic amenities site." The council has been investigating the procedures for imposing a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the site and has taken professional advice. They found that plans would be needed explaining their intentions. Cllr Jukes has been working on his own ideas for the site for several months. He said he was very much open to suggestions from residents about what they wanted to see on the site and what they thought of his plans. "The concept is based on the local area and I looked at High Rocks, which were the inspiration for the size of it," he said. "A path leads from the Town Hall building and takes us into an open space. I do want to move the war memorial. “When I was mayor and on Holocaust Day people were queing for a bus by the war memorial, it made me think it needed to be somewhere more dignified, like a memorial garden."

Other elements including a tourist information centre, coffee shops and bars, and a 1,200-seat theatre. The art gallery would have the space to hold major exhibitions, which Cllr Jukes said would draw visitors to the town. His concept, which has been seen by councillors, presents an ambitious idea. It describes ‘cathedral-like spaces’, the buildings joined by walkways reaching high above and dramatic atriums, all based on some of the world’s most iconic buildings. Outside is described as "a chain terrace of rocks” and “peaks and valleys". "It is only a concept I’m putting forward and I’m open to ideas from interested parties like the Town Forum and Civic Society," Cllr Jukes said. His preferred method for buying the site is to re-open negotiations with the owner, which would be “quicker and cleaner” than a CPO. "As soon as we get possession I would go about negotions with Network Rail (a rail tunnel runs underneath the buildings) with a view to demolish the existing cinima site," he said.

Cllr Jukes, who had a career in the construction industry before becoming a councillor, said the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company was not involved in the project. He said he had asked the joint venture between the borough council and John Laing if they wanted to be involved, but said: “" did not have a positive response at this stage." "I think this is the only way forward," he said. "We’ve been saddled with this grot spot for 11 years and I cannot see any positive progress being made for another five years unless the council takes control."

Last week we reported how resident and fine art student Val Bolsover had created her own concept model for the cinema site. Cllr Jukes said while he liked her idea for a ‘living wall’ it would cost too much to maintain. Her designs were similar to Cllr Jukes’ in terms of the sorts of facilities that might be available. Asked if he had been inspired by her plans, he said: "I’d already had my ideas, these have been done for months, but I was pleased she was thinking along the same lines. These are the sort of ideas I want to encourage so we can embrace the whole concept of making this into a civic space, which would relieve the tired functions we’ve got over here (the civic complex)."

RTW Town Centre - cinema debate - daniel bech / / 2004 RTW Town Centre Cineam Debate - daniel bech / 2004


8 July 2011
Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum - discussion about the GROT SPOT at the meeting Thursday 30 June 2011

Much to the disappointment of Tunbridge Wells residents this week, the company poised to buy the derelict ABC cinema site has quit the deal. However it emerged this week that a new partner is now in negotiations with the Irish banks selling the derelict buildings, and a source said the sale was in "significant advanced stages."

ABC cinema to be purchased by TWBC? Yes please, say local residents fed up with waiting for this site to be improved. Many locals feel that the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council should buy the site via compulsory purchase, and it's positive news to hear this may yet be a viable option, with TWBC pushing ahead its plans to forcibly buy the site by agreeing initial funding.

Council regeneration chief David Jukes was concerned if this latest deal with an "under bidder" fell through, then agent Savills could work its way through hopefuls who did not offer enough cash in last year's bidding war – one of which was the council. "They can go 'who is the next purchaser? And the next?' If they talk to another one, what are we going to do? It's incumbent on the council to look at all the possibilities. I would open up negotiations with Savills," he said. Asked if the council could make the compulsory purchase even if negotiations between an existing buyer and the banks were underway, he said: "I don't know. We are finding out where we stand. "We're exploring all the finance available to us. The first bidder has fallen though. We have already had discussions with the second bidder. I have instructed our legal people and property people to look at what the ramifications are of compulsory purchase, demolition under a Section 215 (a law giving councils the right to force sites' clean-up) or any other options to us." He did not yet know how much compulsory purchase would cost and the council would have to spend money on expert legal advice, he said.

Funding to explore a compulsory purchase has been rubber-stamped by cabinet member for finance, James Scholes. He spoke at the latest meeting of Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum where angry members slammed the cinema site for being tatty. Mr Scholes said there would be no quick fix and "costs will build". "It will take a long time, eighteen months to two years. It depends how much it goes in to court," he warned. He said forum members' suggestions of refurbishing the frontage shops for short-term rents, demolishing the cinema and using the space as a car park ahead of any major development were unlikely to happen. "I don't think we can do anything until we own it. The Irish banks are not particularly good and they own this estate. I think they would be very reluctant to spend any money," he said. He added the railway tunnels beneath the cinema meant demolition was "not just a simple knock-down".

Tunbridge Wells Civic Society chairman John Forster told RTW Town Forum members: "These premises are managed by Savills. They are full of debris that has just been left. "Savills, which trades on the name of top quality, should be made to do something to make them look decent." The blue hoardings "halfway across the pavement" were also criticised. The RTW Town Forum agreed to urge the borough council to purchase the site and to also use Section 215 of the Planning Act to force the owners to improve the site's appearance. Savills refused to comment.


The Courier - This is Kent - on Friday 20 May 2011

Compulsory purchase order under consideration for site


The Courier - This is Kent - on Friday 18 February 2011
Ex-cinema site in town centre put into hands of receivers - by Mary Harris

The sale of the ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells has been taken out of the hands of its owner. Receivers were appointed on Monday for the town centre site, owned by Irish firm Rydell Properties which bought it in 2004.

Savills directors Julian Clarke and Stewart Martin will take charge of all dealings related to the derelict town centre site flanked by Mount Pleasant and Church Road. It is likely receivers have been appointed by the Irish banks who wanted to call in loans to Cork-based Rydell. Savills spokeswoman Liz Williams said: "The appointment will not, however, affect Rydell Properties Ltd, which can continue to trade." The move is likely to speed up the sale of the site for which Rydell secured permission for a hotel, offices and shops in 2008. On Tuesday "under offer" banners were pasted across Savills' boards above the cinema, which closed in 2000. A shortlist of three buyers had been drawn up by Savills last September, putting Tunbridge Wells Borough Council out of the bidding war. Its bid was later described as "not competitive" by Savills.

The council said this week it did not know who the buyer was for the site or when demolition might take place. But council director of regeneration and sustainability Jonathan MacDonald added he was "really pleased" about progress on site. He said: "We have stayed in touch with Savills and will continue to push hard for a speedy exchange and completion. We've also been advised that the persons appointed as receiver work for Savills, which can only be a positive sign."

Mr Clarke and Mr Martin are LPA receivers (Law of Property Act 1925) who are appointed to take charge of a mortgaged property by a lender whose loan is in default, usually with a view to a sale or to collect rental income for the lender. It is common in the case of the failure of a property developer, whose borrowings will largely be secured on specific properties.


KENT NEWS - KOS (Kent on Saturday / Kent on Sunday) writes on Sunday 5 December 2010

Sale of cinema site in Tunbridge Wells will NOT be finalised this year.

The former ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells at the heart of Tunbridge Wells is now unlikely to change hands until the New Year - further delaying its regeneration. Property agent Savills had hoped to complete on the sale of the prime development site by the end of this year. But the owner (Rydell Properties, Joe O'Donovan) of the former ABC cinema site on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road has yet to decide on a preferred buyer from three shortlisted bidders. They are expected to do this within the next few weeks but the legal work needed to complete the sale will probably stretch into the New Year, adding further delay for hopes that the derelict site will be rejuvenated as soon as possible. About 20 bidders had put in offers for the grot spot, which had been placed on the open market in May for unconditional offers in excess of £8 million. This included a bid from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council which failed to make the shortlist. Council chiefs wanted to take ownership of the eyesore to make sure it was brought back to life without further delay after sitting empty for the last decade. The three parties still in the running to buy the site have not been revealed, but Savills had hoped to announce the preferred buyer last month after due diligence had been completed on those on the shortlist. The buyer has still to be agreed; completion is unlikely to take place until next year, 2011.

The cinema is empty for , - since December 2000.


KENT NEWS - KOS (Kent on Saturday / Kent on Sunday) writes on Saturday 25 September 2010

Authority's multi-million pound push for eye-sore misses out on shortlist.

A bid by council bosses to buy the cinema site at the heart of Tunbridge Wells and regenerate the eyesore has failed. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council submitted an undisclosed offer for the prime development site on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road before a deadline for bids closed on 16 August 2010.

Council leaders said they wanted to buy the former ABC cinema site, which has become derelict after sitting empty for the last 10 years, to make sure it was rejuvenated as quickly as possible. About 20 bidders put in offers for the site, which had been placed on the open market in May for unconditional offers in excess of £8 million. But it has now emerged the local authority has failed to make the shortlist of three which the owner is now considering selling the cinema site to.

Jonathan MacDonald, the council’s director of regeneration and sustainability, said: “We made a very competitive bid but we have been notified that our bid is not being taken forward. The reason we made the bid was that we wanted to control the site to make sure it was developed well and within the shortest timeframe possible. It is hugely important to the town that the chosen buyer gets on and delivers a high quality development quickly. Our understanding is that the agent is carrying out checks on a number of shortlisted parties and we are watching with interest. We will certainly work with the chosen developer as it is hugely important to the town, to the council and to the community of the town, that the biggest ‘grot spot’ in the town centre is dealt with quickly and efficiently. This site has lain dormant for too long. That is the reason we made a bid, but presumably other bidders have offered more. We took professional advice about the level of bid we should make. It is perfectly possible that other bidders have made other assumptions.”

Ian Fowler, a director of Savills in Sevenoaks, which is the property agent handling the sale, refused to reveal the names of the three parties shortlisted to buy the site. He said: “We have three shortlisted bids which the client is currently considering. We are going through the process of further due diligence on these three parties and the client is not due to make a decision on them for another two or three weeks. It is still a competition, so we cannot reveal the identity of the parties, but we want to get the purchase completed before the end of the year and at the moment we are on target to achieve this.”

Supermarket giant Waitrose is believed to be interested in opening a store on the site but is not thought to have bid directly for it.


The Courier writes on Friday 20 August 2010

More than 20 bids have been received for the old cinema site, which was valued at £8.5million Waitrose and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council are among more than 20 parties vying to buy the town centre cinema site. The council made an offer as the deadline approached for bids on Monday. It would not reveal its bid, but described it as "competitive".

Waitrose was tightlipped this week, but the Courier understands it too has put in an offer. Supermarket spokesman James Armstrong said: "We remain keen to bring Waitrose to Tunbridge Wells for the first time and are continuing to explore a range of opportunities which would enable us to achieve this. However, at this time we cannot comment on any specific sites."

Council leader Roy Bullock said he could not envisage a bidding war with Waitrose. But asked if the council could work with the supermarket, he said: "Of course. But I don't think we can be exclusive to Waitrose. Anything that improves the competitiveness in the town of convenience foods can only be good for the residents of Tunbridge Wells." He added the council might be able to up its offer for a more favourable development on the derelict site. Mr Bullock would not comment on the council's arrangements to borrow the money.

News of these potential buyers and possible progress on the land will be welcomed by those living and working in the town. Residents have long wanted a Waitrose and have berated the council for not taking action on the crumbling site. Mr Bullock added: "Over the past eight to ten years we have been belted over the head by the public saying 'Why aren't you doing this and that and the other?' and we are responding to this criticism by putting in an offer for the site to bring it under our control so it is built out in the shortest feasible time."

Estate agent Savills said more than 20 companies had bid for the site. Director Ian Fowler said it was "no secret" Waitrose wanted to be in the town. He would not reveal the size of the offers but said Savills believed the site was worth £8.5million and it was "very satisfied with what has come in". Mr Fowler said the site would not necessarily go to the highest bidder. "We want this to happen and not to rumble on and not to collapse in a heap at the last six months." Short-listed companies will be offered more time to investigate fully the cost that Network Rail's tunnel running underneath will add to developing the site. They could then "reduce or improve" their bid, said Mr Fowler.


KENT NEWS - KOS (Kent on Saturday / Kent on Sunday) writes on Friday 6 August 2010

Council chiefs will make an audacious last-minute bid to buy the derelict cinema site at the heart of Tunbridge Wells just days before a deadline for offers closes.

The leaders of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have, however, kept the details of their multi-million pound offer close to their chests to avoid sparking a new bidding war. The final decision to go-ahead with trying to buy the site, which council leader Roy Bullock refused to rule out last month, was made at a meeting of the authority’s cabinet on July 29, 2010.

The full details of the bid were made exempt from the public and it was recorded as an unnamed “potential property acquisition”. But we can reveal that the entry refers to the former ABC site on the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road.

The Conservative-led council has decided to bid for the site after carrying out a wide-ranging risk assessment to avoid burgeoning the taxpayer with a property that becomes a white elephant. But after weighing up all the arguments for and against, the council leaders see buying the site as the best way of securing its long-term future as part of the final piece in the jigsaw in ambitious regeneration plans for the town centre.

The Town Hall site has already been earmarked for development, with the borough council, police and other agencies potentially moving into the Land Registry site in Hawkenbury. And if the council owned the cinema site, which has become a major eyesore since closing as a cinema 10 years ago, it could be included in plans to attract a major retailer like House of Fraser or Debenhams to the regeneration area and boost the town’s appeal as a competitive retail centre.

Savills has been marketing the former ABC site for offers in excess of £8 million since May, with a deadline for bids of Monday, August 16. Originally the property agent stipulated offers should be unconditional, but it is now believed that the agent is willing to accept offers with conditions after we exclusively revealed that engineering complications in building on top of a railway tunnel leading to the nearby station could add millions to the cost of any development. As a result it is expected that the council will bid considerably less than the £8 million guide price or attach conditions to its offer.

The decision to bid for the site was included at the recent cabinet meeting of the council as urgent business which could not be called-in by other committees under scrutiny rules to avoid delays which could scupper the plans. Councillor Ron Weeden, the Conservative representative for Hawkhurst and Sandhurst, spoke at the meeting to express his concern over the possible purchase.

But the cabinet voted to delegate authority to the council’s director of regeneration and sustainability Jonathan MacDonald, in consultation with the portfolio holders for finance and governance, and economic development, Cllrs Len Horwood and Tracy Moore, to “make an offer for the site within the council’s budgetary framework”. It also decided that “any bid will be informed by a certified Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors valuation and subject to the usual approvals”.

If successful in buying the site, the council’s plans for it have not been revealed, but the land it includes is considered suitable for “mixed use development”. A spokeswoman for the authority stressed that there were no plans to reopen a cinema on the site.


The Courier writes on Friday 9 July 2010

Leader says new owner must get on with the work
NOT SO HOT PROPERTY: The ABC cinema site has been put up for sale and the council is considering putting in an offer

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is considering buying the town's most infamous grot spot, the Courier can reveal. The town's ugliest building, the derelict ABC Cinema, is up for sale but to date there have been no purchase offers. The closing date is August 16. It has lain empty since 2000 and owner Rydell Properties has put it back on the market in what is believed to be a sale forced by the bank.

Speaking of buying the site, which is for sale through Savills, council leader Roy Bullock told the Courier: "We have not ruled anything in or out and we are still considering our options." The council and developer John Laing are joint venture partners in the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company and it is believed any offer would be through this. Mr Bullock added: "We have not talked to Savills but we have been talking to our partner to establish whether they have an appetite and we have also been obtaining more information about the site and the possible options as far as the mixed use on the site. I understand our partner might have been doing its own investigations." Any buyer would need the necessary finance and development agreement in place and the council could "not do it on its own", he said.

Mr Bullock said he was not aware of any potential buyers. Savills had hoped to secure around £8 million for the site, but that figure has been called optimistic by local business leaders, particularly because of the extra construction costs caused by rail tunnels underneath. Mr Bullock admitted the cost of protective work of the tunnels demanded by Network Rail could be "prohibitive" and would affect the "overall viability of the site". He added: "I think the price would vary depending on the use that might be generated on that site." He said he was concerned about the site falling into the hands of a developer with no thorough knowledge of the plot or the necessary finances.

Asked if the council would have to consult the public over its purchase, he said: "Technically no, because it is not a council asset. "It is the council working on behalf of its community and we hope that if we do decide to make an offer the community would support us in securing the future of the site." The council would be likely to seek new plans and there were various "permutations" said Mr Bullock, which included a supermarket with offices and a hotel or residential flats with offices and shops.

Referring to any possible development of the town hall, Mr Bullock said in "an ideal world" the same "sympathetic" architect would design both the ABC Cinema and town hall sites "but not at the same time". Any buyer should get on and demolish the cinema site buildings, he added.

Savills director Ian Fowler said more than 12 parties had viewed the site and he was expecting offers on August 16. He said the tunnel was "not an insurmountable problem but needs an engineering solution". The £8 million price tag was a "ball park figure", he added. "People will be playing closely to their chest because they want a competitive edge so we are not expecting them to be talking early about numbers," he added.


27 May 2010 - it is official

CINEMA SITE on Mount Pleasant / Church Road is for sale again!.
A huge sale board was fixed above the main front entrance.


KOS - Kent on Saturday / Kent on Sunday writes on Saturday 8 May 2010
CINEMA SITE ON MOUNT PLEASANT - Buyer sought to submit plans for long-awaited regeneration

COMMENTS - Added: Saturday 08/05/2010
I am not so sure whether the news that the cinema site is for sale is not just another delaying tactic. Such an announcement gives the owners a next chance to do nothing and the Council another chance to relax, wait and see. This is not progress! I wonder what the official price tag will be; so that we can compare it’s value with the Town Hall complex, which is in the books at a mere £3.2 Mio.
Daniel Bech, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent


KOS - Kent on Saturday / Kent on Sunday writes on Saturday 8 May 2010

Real hope at last as old cinema is put up for sale
Buyer sought to submit plans for long-awaited regeneration

The derelict cinema site in Tunbridge Wells town centre will be put up for sale on the open market this month in a bid to finally rid the town of the eyesore. This will be the first step in finding a developer able to complete the regeneration of the site at the heart of the town after previous plans for shops and a hotel were derailed by the credit crunch.
It means the new owner would be free to submit a planning application outlining their vision for the ABC site that stretches around the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road. And although the process may take time, it is seen as progress in trying to solve the long-running issue which has provoked such strong views among residents.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has been heavily criticised for allowing the site to remain derelict and become an eyesore. But council chiefs have stressed that they do not own the site, so can only advise potential developers on which schemes would be suitable for the prime piece of real estate.
The local authority’s new director of regeneration and sustainability Jonathan MacDonald, who took up the post eight weeks ago, has been working with current owners Rydell Properties to help facilitate the site’s sale.

Rydell obtained planning permission for a £50 million redevelopment of the cinema site two years. Its proposals included a 137-bed hotel, 122-bay car park and retail and office space, but this was scuppered by the global economic crisis.

Mr MacDonald said: “We are very keen to strengthen the town’s position with regards to threats from other competing centres. We are leaking from our retail catchment in favour of other retail centres. We have to do all we can to draw these people back in order for them to spend their money in the town, which helps our local economy. The wider issue is about making Tunbridge Wells much more attractive for people to shop, work and play in. The cinema and town hall sites are important in connecting both sides of the town. You have Royal Victoria Place at one end and The Pantiles at the other, with the cinema in the centre and it is this site which is a bit of a vacuum. The cinema is the biggest grot spot in the town and the council has been working very hard behind the scenes to try and break through the impasse. This is a site that we do not own and the fact that it has not yet been developed is a demonstration of the failure of the market and points to the difficulty that developers have had over the past few years in gaining access to funding. We have had a meeting with Savills who will be marketing the site on behalf of the owner and funder.”
The site is due to be placed on the open market within the next three weeks.
While saying the council will do all it can to see the cinema site redeveloped as soon as possible, Mr MacDonald warned that a buyer will need to be given time to put their plans together, secure funding and go through the planning process. He said: “I have no doubt that any buyer will want to work with the council as the planning authority to consider a revised scheme. But I can assure your readers that nothing would please me more than to see this important site developed within a sensible time frame.”

Mr MacDonald is a chartered surveyor who joined Crawley Council in 2003 after doing consultancy work for the authority. He came to Tunbridge Wells two months ago after a spell with Bromley Council as its assistant director of renewal.


The Courier writes on Friday 7 May 2010

BACK ON THE MARKET: The old cinema site on Mount Pleasant Road

The cinema site in Tunbridge Wells is up for sale. The Courier can exclusively reveal the derelict Ritz buildings will be back on the market in a matter of weeks. Agent Savills has been appointed to manage the sale. It would not comment this week, saying its client was "not available".

The move follows years of inaction on the infamous grot spot which was granted permission for a hotel, flats and shops in November 2008. Its owner, Irish company Rydell Properties, has infuriated locals and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by failing to begin work at the key town centre location. Speculation has been mounting across the town about the state of Rydell Properties' finances because of banks in Ireland calling in loans.

The borough council said this week it understood "the site is being brought back to the market by the developer and the funder". Borough council director of regeneration and sustainability Jonathan MacDonald, who said the authority had been working "hard behind the scenes" to bring the site back to the market, thought it was "almost certain" any new owner would seek to alter the planning permission. He said the council could not say at this stage whether any plans would contain a cinema but added the council was producing a "position statement" for Savills which outlined its preferences for the site. Asked if Rydell's borrowing had hit trouble, Mr MacDonald would only say: "The fact we have been told that the site is being jointly marketed by the developer and the bank tells us all we need to know. "We have been advised that there will be significant interest (in the site) but we are less clear about the price." He added: "We look forward to working with Savills and any interested parties."

A local commercial property owner said he thought it would be marketed for around £15 million but because of "significant engineering works required by the rail tunnel which runs underneath" and other factors, it was likely to sell for "considerably less". He forecast there would be interest from pension funds.

Town Forum chairman Chris Thomas said the sale came as no surprise and the site on Mount Pleasant and Church Road had seen a "catalogue of disasters". He said it was a "matter for debate" whether a hotel was right for the town centre, but he hoped any new owner would demolish the crumbling site and in the short-term, refurbish the shops on Church Road and Mount Pleasant so they could be used as work behind progressed. Mr Thomas added: "It is a good site but it needs someone with the finances to do it."

At the time of going to press, no-one from Rydell was available for comment.


The Courier writes on Friday 8 January 2010
COUNCIL MAY GO FOR ABC SITE — Compulsory Purchase Order ?

The Council may step in and buy the ABC cinema site if development continues to stall. The derelict town centre buildings are due to be transformed into a shopping centre and hotel. But the project has been beset by delays, with the latest hold-up over footpaths due to be resolved in weeks. But the Courier can reveal Tunbridge Wells Borough Council may take control of the site if progress is delayed.

The council’s top planner, Trevor Gasson, told the Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum that demolition could be carried out as soon as the objection period to the re-routed footpaths had ended. In his response to questions by the forum via email, he added if "progress is not evident on site" during the early part of this year it "may be appropriate for the council to consider whether it should assume greater control". Mr Gasson, interim director of development and planning, said this could be via the Regeneration Company or by a compulsory purchase order.

Asked if the council would intervene, leader Cllr Roy Bullock said it could serve a compulsory purchase order if it had "due cause and was acting in the best interests of the community". He said it could seek interest from "other developer parties" and then buy the site compulsorily on their behalf and at their expense". Or, if the site were to be for sale on the open market, (we could) attempt to purchase it, fully identifying the risks associated with such an action. The method of financing such a purchase, should the opportunity arise and the council agrees to such a course of action, would be decided as part of that process." Asked if he would call a crisis meeting with Rydell, he said: "The council and its partner John Laing are, as I speak, trying to identify the facts about the site and if it is necessary we will arrange a meeting either with the owners or their financial backers." He said the council would continue to "exercise pressure" on Rydell to complete the project, but he would not comment on rumours the site, owned by Cork developer Joe O’Donovan through Rydell Properties, would soon be for sale with a £12 million price tag. Cllr Bullock said the council had been told by Rydell’s agent it was not for sale and demolition would begin once the final consultation on the footpaths ended, which "hopefully is imminent".

Rydell agent David Swann said there was "no truth whatsoever" in the sale rumours. He said they were moving ahead with signing lettings. "There’s no problem at all. We are proceeding in the normal way. We are waiting for footpaths issues to be resolved".


17 December 2009
CINEMEA SITE & Royal Tunbridge Wells Conservation Area at Risk (English Heritage Register 2009)

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum has in their objectives as first issue:
'Royal Tunbridge Wells is becoming clear of ‘Grot Spots’ with priority on the Ritz Building / Cinema Site by 2010'

The Minutes of the RTW Town Forum Meeting 30 July 2009 state: "Cllr Leonard Price (Culverden Ward) to inform Daniel Bech regarding answers to questions relating to the Cinema site (Business Rates - Demolition - Construction) and RTW Conservation Area at Risk (English Heritage Register 2009)."

On 17 December 2009, Trevor Gasson, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Interim Director Development & Planning, gave answers to the questions.
Questions & Answers - Cinema Site and Royal Tunbridge Wells Conservation Area at Risk

> > > The engravings and old postcards - to get a different kind of display and decoration on the hoarding which surrounds the former Cinema Site/Ritz Buildings, appeared on the panels in the week commencing 14 December 2009.


4 December 2009
Flood plain threat derails Joe O'Donovan's development in Cork, Ireland
— Joe O'Donovan is the owner of the Cinema site, Royal Tunbridge Wells

link to Comment in 2004: swapping Town Hall site / Cinema site  Comment in 2004: "Swapping the Town Hall/Civic Centre site with the Cinema/Ritz Building site
"We have always advocated the swapping of the Town Hall business for the Ritz site, as the Town Hall complex has a more suitable ‘promenade’!"

"Flood plain threat derails development in Cork, Ireland"
It could have been the location of a hotel, shops and a swimming pool.
Cork County Council and an inspector from An Bord Pleanala were happy for the development to go ahead in Glamire village, five miles from Cork city. But yesterday it emerged the move has been stopped by the top planning authority - because it is on a flood plain. It is a perfect example of how planning officials disagree on how best to deal with the threat of flooding and comes despite Environment Minister John Gormley's new national guidelines on the management of flood risk. Both the board's inspector, as well as Cork County Council whose own high-rise offices were last week flooded by the River Lee, had approved the commercial aspects of the project which is close to the banks of the River Glashaboy. Even the board's inspector acknowledged in his report that the Office of Public Works' flood hazard mapping service "had recorded a flood event at the western end of the site at Riverstown Bridge as recurring". Nevertheless, inspector Hugh Mannion considered that the developer, Padlake Ltd, had "adequately assessed the flood risk for the site and through building design has mitigated that risk".
Developer Joe O'Donovan, who owns Padlake, envisaged building almost 299,000sq ft
(= 27,778 sq m — compare the size of RVP/Royal Victoria Place in Royal Tunbridge Wells: 29,414 sq m) of accommodation in three blocks, and retail, leisure and educational facilities. However, a meeting of Bord Pleanala board members on November 11, which pre-dated the recent peak flooding disasters, decided to refuse permission for the whole project. The reasons included the location of part of the site on a flood plain and the "development of a school at this part of the site would contravene the provisions of the (county) development plan and would be contrary to the draft national guidelines on the management of flood risk which advises the avoidance of such development in areas at risk of flooding".
— Independent Ireland, Donal Buckley, 4 December 2009


October 2009
Derelict Cinema Site/Ritz Buildings - DEMOLITION DELAYS AGAIN!
- and the hoarding is likely to stand there for a long time

Only an ugly blue hoarding for the RTW Conservation Area - far too short to cover the grot and without the promised historical prints - was erected around the derelict site by Rydell Properties (Lordland Europe and Panter Hudspith Architects). Contrary to requests, the brick pavements (Mount Pleasant Road / Church Road) are not left in full width until the real demolition starts; it is not pedestrian-friendly!


5 August 2009
DESIGN OF HOARDING around derelict Cinema Site/Ritz Buildings

Daniel Bech had proposed in February 2006 (application for separate demoltion) and it had been mentioned again in September 2008, during the exhibition of the development of the New Ritz Building, to the architects (Panter Hudspith) and development agent (Landlord Europe, David Swann), that Daniel Bech and Katharina Mahler-Bech have a large digital archive of "Old Tunbridge Wells" (maps, engravings, etchings, postcards) from local collectors; the huge compilation was produced for "Historical and Interesting Views of Tunbridge Wells", a scheme to help the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra with funding .
Daniel Bech suggested that many images, especially the engravings and restored maps, are suitable for Hoarding Prints around the derelict Cinema Site/Ritz Buildings.

On 5 August 2009, at a meeting with Hugh Strange (Panter Hudspith architects), Daniel Bech, Katharina Mahler, Cllr Leonard Price (Culverden Ward - the location of the site) and members of the RTW Town Forum, it was decided to choose site specific pictures and images of the cinema's surroundings.

"Historical and Interesting Views of Tunbridge Wells"


28 July 2009
THREE FIRE BLAZES at the derelict Cinema Site

Police are appealing for information about the incidents on three successive nights, Saturday 25 July, Sunday 26 July and Monday 27 July 2009. Anyone with information is asked to call 01732 379317.
Chief Inspector for Tunbridge Wells District, Martin Wilson, had raised his concerns with the Cinema site's agent Landlord Europe (David Swann) representing the developer Rydell Properties. He confirmed, in order to increase safety, hoardings will be erected around the buildings.


22 July 2009
FULL COUNCIL MEETING (Chairman, the Mayor Cllr Len Price) — Question/Answer regarding Cinema site

QUESTION: Councillor Brian Ransley (Ward: Capel)
To: Councillor Mrs Elisabeth Thomas, Portfolio-holder for Planning and Economic Development
"Could the portfolio-holder for Planning and Economic Development please inform members as to whether the developers of the cinema site have achieved a completed, signed contract for both hotel operator and office management functions?
— If yes, which companies are now contracted?
— If no, what is the anticipated date for contract completion?"

REPLY: Councillor Mrs Thomas:
"I should like to thank Cllr Ransley for his question and continued interest in the cinema site. At present I understand that the developers continue to negotiate with the prospective occupiers with a view to formal agreement soon. Cllr Ransley will no doubt appreciate that these discussions are commercially confidential between the developers and the prospective occupiers.
However, I can inform him that substantial progress is being made in satisfying the conditions on the planning permission and that the Council is doing what it can to enable the development to go ahead."


17 July 2009
CLAIMED FOOTPATH on Cinema Site — Will this Order delay further the demolition of the grot spot?

Laura Wilkins, Senior Public Rights of Way Officer, Kent County Council has just completed the investigation into the application and as a result has sought and obtained delegated authority to make an Order to add the two routes at footpath status on the basis that the rights are reasonably alleged to subsist. The routes have been in use for well in excess of 20 years with the earliest use dating back to just after the cinema was built in the mid 1930's.


16 July 2009
CINEMEA SITE & Royal Tunbridge Wells Conservation Area at Risk (English Heritage Register 2009)

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum has in their objectives as first issue:
Royal Tunbridge Wells is becoming clear of ‘Grot Spots’ with priority on the Ritz Building / Cinema Site by 2010

Questions to Cllr Leonard Price, Councillor of Culverden Ward, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Mayor of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells (Chairman of Full Council Meetings)
Questions: Cinema Site & RTW CA at risk


12 November 2008
ROYAL TUNBRIDGE WELLS' TOP GROT SPOT — Cinema site and neighbouring shops

The former ABC Cinema, Nos.10-15 Ritz Building Church Road, Shops in Nos.51-67 Mount Pleasant Road, Hill House and Clanricarde Medical Centre, Clanricarde Road, will finally be demolished and redeveloped after Councillors of the TWBC Western Area Planning Committee approved plans and drawings by applicant Rydell Properties TODAY.

In September 2008 Panter Hudspith Architects, the winner of the design competition for the "Cinema GROT SPOT", submitted their planning application for a New Hotel/Office and Retail Development.

The cinema is empty for , - since December 2000.


1 October 2008

Panter Hudspith Architects' presentation materials for the former Cinema Site / Ritz Building (Mount Pleasant Road / Church Road) in the town centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells: New Hotel/Office and Retail Development (Views, Model)

Send your comments regarding the redevelopment (the former cinema site, Nos.10-15 Ritz Building, Church Road; Nos.51-67 Mount Pleasant Road; and Hill House and Clanricarde Medical Centre, Clanricarde Road) to
TWBC Planning Application Search (ref: 08/03119 Demolition and 08/03126)

UPDATE: — The ABC Cinema Site / Ritz Building — deteriorating for 8 years . . . . . .

The Courier's Editor writes on Friday 13 June 2008

There's reassuring news this week on the former ABC cinema front. The owners tells us they're on course and on schedule and will be submitting a formal planning application to the Town Hall at the end of August 2008.
The new shopping centre for Tunbridge Wells with courtyards and columns could be welcoming its first customers in 2011. And what a relief that will be - the thorn in the side of Tunbridge Wells will finally be yanked out.
How many people must ask, when they walk past the former Ritz buildings or pull up alongside in their car, "When will something be done about that site?".
Well, we have been reliably informed the answer is at the end of August - and that's not a month too soon.


The Courier's Letters: 7 March 2008

What is another year? The cinema site has been standing for eight years as a cancerous cell opposite the Town Hall. It affects a square mile area in which it is believed that about 90 per cent of all activities of the borough happen.
We learned rumours of the owners paying a high amount in business rates yearly despite its closure were just myths. We know the building has a planning consent to demolish the grot spot without the need to immediately construct yet it stands proudly there to prove that development speculation has an ugly face.
With the well presented sketches by Panter Hudspith Architects I am more than happy to congratulate the council for the initiative to engage RIBA and some of their top architectural designers to come up with ideas.
There is now a silver line at the horizon. Please do not let anyone get in the way by quibbling over a possible ice rink, public or non public spaces, a stone too high, a brick too low.
The concept is good. Congratulations to the winner and to those who had the vision. Let’s see the result fast. ”

— db/2008


27 February 2008

Panter Hudspith Architects are the winner of the competition to provide concept designs for the former Cinema Site and Ritz Building.
Plans/photos/links/previously approved scheme: The Competition and Supporting Information


The Courier writes on Friday 22 February 2008

The Worst grot spot in Tunbridge Wells is tantalisingly closer to transformation by a leading architect.
The vision for the ABC cinema site will be unveiled on Wednesday (27 February 2008).

Behind closed doors the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) and site owner Rydell scrutinised designs of six architects handpicked for the competition to design the development.

Next Wednesday the winning design will be unveiled to organisations including the Town Forum.

A public consultation is expected once detailed designs are drawn up.

Progress on the site will be welcomed by residents, who since the cinema closed in 2000 have complained vociferously about its deterioration.


Focus writes on Tuesday/Wednesday 5/6 February 2008
(Focus Editor: Gabriel Shepard)

It's been set alight, probed by police ina murder investigationand holds pole position in Tunbridge Wells' list of grot spots.
Courier sub-editor Debbie Attwood gives her opinions an what should be done with the former ABC cinema and asks others what they would like to see at the town centre site.

" The site of the former ABC cinema has now been empty since December 2000. Talk has been rife ever since the cinema closed, with people asking what will become of it. More than seven years have passed and what was once a place that attracted and entertained residents and tourists has most recently been described as "as an ugly ruin disgracing Tunbridge Wells."

The majority of young people I've spoken to in Tunbridge Wells seem to all be in agreement about what should happen to the old cinema. They want a nightclub, or at least a decent bar.

Since the closing of bars such as The Litten Tree, A Bar Too Far, Bar Zia and Que Pasa, Tunbridge Wells is somewhat lacking in variety for a night out and the town is becoming increasingly overrun with places to eat out: three of the above having now become restaurants.

The ABC site's owenership has been passed about over the years - originally planning permission had been granted for a nightclub within a development consisting of 5,000m sq of shops, 800m sq of bars and restaurants and 48 flats.

But most recently its owner - Cork based developer Rydell Properties - commissioned five leading architects to come up with a design, from which a winner will be chosen by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Rydell has said it envisages the site becoming a "£60 million - £75 million" centre likely to feature a hotel, shops, restaurants and offices.

As a Tunbridge Wells resident I increasingly find myself having to travel outside of the area to places such as Maidstone, London and Brigthon to find a top nightclub. Of course we must not forget good old Da Vinci's/Beluga and El Monno, but to be honest their size, when comparing it to the vast amount of people, and their prices (which are not too far off top London nightclub prices), are just not quite good enough! "

UPDATE: - PLFTW(IT) Group - 23 January 2008
THE RITZ CINEMA - photos taken nearly 2 years ago

The Ritz Cinema - Interior - UK Urban Exploration Forums 07.03.2006

UPDATE: - PLFTW(IT) Group - 12 January 2008
Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Centre and the Cinema Site Redevelopment (Ritz Building's shops and cinema)

The Competition and Supporting Information (plans/photos/links/previously approved scheme)
6 Architects: Hazle Mc Cormack Young (RTW), CTM (Hythe) and Avanti, FAT, Panter Hudspith, Stanton Williams (London)

The Civic Society made its first appearance on TWBC' Online Forum "Ask the Leader". They claim that they proposed an Architects’ Competition in 2002. However at the same time their pro-developer position leading to the Telephone House Debacle must have left them with little time to become active enough to shape the form of the Cinema site. Not only have they quibbled too much over “little windows” on that dreadful development of the former BT exchange at the cost of hundreds of ‘walk to your work’ office jobs and neighbours amenities, but they quibbled over some unimportant bits of TWBC officer’s design ideas. (Many do though think that neither TWBC, nor Civic Society had ever the right, in view of their incompetence, to dictate a design of these two crucial town centre sites)

Would the right time to do an architects’ competition not have been in 2001, when the planning brief was issued? The former president of the Civic Society, an architect, says he wished he had the same confidence in his trade as I have. I think it does not matter whose idea it was at the beginning; laudable is that the Council supports it with all flags. It might be that residents do not like any of the schemes or the owners do not want what is dished.

What is important now is that the site is flattened, so that RTW sees progress. Some, including, even the former president of the Civic Society, would be prepared to have a quick fix of the shop fronts and reintroduce retail outlets, nonetheless, if temporary. The cinema itself seems not to be linked structurally to the shop fronts, and the railway does not run directly below the main part of the cinema. So if this saga takes any longer, why not just take off the Cinema Hall bulk only and wait, ‘til we have one day, after the slump in the commercial property market, a fine developer who is proud to build opposite the Town Hall something we can all be pleased about.

PS. I still hope that the desired outcome of the exercise is a development which fits into the image of Royal (and I mean Royal) Tunbridge Wells. - db/2008


The Courier writes on Friday 14 December 2007

A multi-million pounds "landmark" development could replace Tunbridge Wells' most infamous grot spot by 2010. The run-down former ABC cinema site in the heart of Tunbridge Wells will be transformed into a "£60million-£75million" centre likely to feature a hotel with around 100 rooms, shops, restaurants and offices. Talks are already under way with up to two anchor stores and three hotel chains

This week the developer said work could begin on the site at the end of next year or even earlier to avoid wintry weather, with building taking approximately two years culminating in a "grand opening". It is hoped the large prestigious development with interesting frontages on Mount Pleasant and Church Road will pull together the northern and southern ends of the town - drawing people up from the Pantiles and enticing shoppers down Mount Pleasant.

An architect will be handpicked by the Royal Institute of British Architects, which this week in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the developer Cork-based Rydell Properties, unveiled a high profile design competition.
RIBA has invited five architectural practices to compete with their "concept designs" and the winner will be announced in early February. The practice will then work up detailed drawings for discussions ahead of a planning application, which is expected to be submitted to the Town Hall in the middle of next year, with demolition hoped to start by this time next year.

The council described the site yesterday (Thursday 13.12.2007) as "crucial to the town" and the development had to be "110 per cent right".

David Swann, of Lordland Europe, for the developer, told the Kent and Sussex Courier: "My role is to make this happen - there is so much interest in this site that we decided to collaborate with the council and go on the competitive route. The RIBA have chosen architects who will be very mindful of Tunbridge Wells itself, its style and design and its history and so on. We want to see a landmark building for Tunbridge Wells and the offices and shops will create more jobs. We are looking for a commercially successful development as well as a handsome piece of architecture."

Although planning permission was eventually won by GLN Properties through the Secretary of State in 2004, the company sold on the site which is flanked by Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road.

New owners Rydell Properties have since extended the site and bought Pizza Hut, Gamleys and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Clanricarde House. The site is approximately 0.54hectares and the borough council's design brief looks for a minimum of 7,000m2 of retail space. But the developer revealed it was still "active in the possible acquisition of a greater area" to the rear.

Director of RIBA South East Helen Wren said the architects from the South East were chosen for their wide variety of experiences and styles and the concept designs would be "broad brush" not detailed designs.

Council leader Cllr Roy Bullock said the council was "very excited about this development " and said he hoped "the people of Tunbridge Wells will be too".

There will be no public consultation on the competition designs because they will be conceptual only but there will be opportunity for public comment as part of the normal planning process.

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum wrote to Cllr Bullock this week, saying it supported any initiative to remove the "grot spot" but it hoped existing permission to demolish the site was acted upon "as soon as practicable". It also said architects should listen "and want to listen" to those living nearby.

In 2004 the Secretary of State decided a cinema did not have to be provided on the site despite the council's wishes. The authority this week said it now felt the development "could offer so much more".

Reader comments

A 'flagship' development as proposed would bring a lot of economic benefits to the town, but will certainly generate a large amount of extra traffic. The town is already gridlocked during peak periods. The developers and council must ensure that this work is accompanied by some proper traffic management.
Hugh Bankier, Tunbridge Wells

Since Rydell Properties have extended the site, it would seem to be a golden opportunity to build a cinema on the extension since it will not be affected by the restrictive covenant imposed when the cinema was sold or the decision of the Secretary of State in 2004.
Colin Simpson, Calverley Park, Tunbridge Wells


The Courier writes on Friday 7 December 2007

Ideas for transforming one of the town's worst "grot spots" are being sought in a competition to design a new scheme for the dilapidated former cinema site in Tunbridge Wells town centre. Set up by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, the Cinema Design Competition will invite six architectural practices to submit ideas for the controversial site.

Mystery surrounds the identity of the Irish businessman who bought the prime site earlier this year, and he has given no indications of his plans for the area, which has planning permission for a mixed use development. However the borough council confirmed that one of his representatives will be involved in the competition.

Daniel Bech of Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum, who has campaigned for many months for town centre improvements, said he welcomed the idea of a competition to bring in fresh ideas. "It is brilliant. Our feeling in any case is that the cinema should be demolished because it is an eyesore and a health hazard, and if nothing better can be designed, then it should become an open green space. But if architects can come up with a really innovative way of using the space, so much the better." He added: "This is a key site, right opposite the town hall, and it is so important that we get it right."

RIBA South East director Helen Wren was not prepared to discuss any further details of the competition yesterday (Thursday 6 December 2007), but said all would be revealed next week. She added: "We are very happy to be involved in such an exciting project for the town."

The borough council has stressed that it wants to work closely with the reclusive new owner. Many of the shops surrounding the cinema, which was badly damaged by a fire two years ago, have closed down and remain derelict.


5 December 2007


Press Conference, Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Wednesday 12 December 2007Cinema Design Competition
Media representatives are invited to a press conference at the Town Hall to be briefed on a new project coordinated by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. The project will enlist six architectural practices to produce concept designs for a new scheme for the former cinema site in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Present at the briefing will be: Robert Cottrill, Director of Planning and Development for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Cllr Roy Bullock, Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Helen Wren, Regional Director, RIBA South East and David Swann, representing the owner of the former cinema site.

Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum Meeting Thursday 25 October 2007The Cinema Site was discussed and the Town Forum considered it a disgrace and a shame for the town that the site had been left to decay. The Town Forum resolved to write to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Roy Bullock, and the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development, Councillor Mrs Thomas expressing their very strong view that at the least the existing site should be demolished. This would be better visually and would encourage local residents that things were moving forward. It was suggested that if the site was demolished it could become an open space until a final decision of its use was agreed.

Info on Demolition:
Conservation Area Consent to demolish the buildings (former cinema and shops) on the site was granted on 23 March 2006 (demolition was 'de-linked' from construction).


1 year later, February 2007



23 March 2006 - Tunbridge Wells Borough Council grants consent - application TW/06/00369
to demolish a building in Conservation Area

Conservation Area Consent: Variation of terms of condition 2 of Conservation Area Consent TW/01/02443 to permit demolition of buildings to proceed without compliance with requirement at paragraph (b) thereof.
Location: Cinema Development Site, Mount Pleasant Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent.


The Courier writes on Friday 10 February 2006

Redevelopment of the former ABC cinema site in the heart of Tunbridge Wells is expected to start in April 2006.
Professionals have been instructed to start work on the key town centre site.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has been in discussions with Ferlyn Properties which bought the site from town-based GLN last July (2005).

It is understood Ferlyn Properties believed to be based in Ireland is to proceed with the plans which finally received permission following a planning inquiry in October 2004.
The development includes a night club, more than 5,000m sq of shops, and 800m sq of bars and restaurants, plus 48 flats.

The project is currently at the tender stage, with demolition planned to start in April.
Construction is expected to follow in July and the shops intended to be open before December 2007.

Broadlands Chartered Surveyors in Tunbridge Wells Paul Carter said: "Ferlyn Properties is proud to be associated with this prestigious development that, with the comprehensive redevelopment of the site, will enhance the character of the Conservation Area, reinforce the retail presence in this important location, add to the viability and vitality of the town centre and provide residential accommodation."
Portfolio holder for planning Councillor Elizabeth Thomas: "We are delighted that the proposed redevelopment is now getting underway."


Is this Royal Tunbridge Wells in November 2005?
Top Eyesores / GROT SPOTS in Royal Tunbridge Wells

Is this Royal Tunbridge Wells? - Grot Spots in 2005 Powerpoint Presentation for the Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum Meeting 29 November 2005


The Courier writes on Friday 29 July 2005 - Front Page:

Mystery surrounds the new owner of the ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells.

The prime plot straddling Mount Pleasant and Church Road was sold by local firm GLN (Copenhagen) and completed last week. The new owner is believed to be a private individual from Ireland working mostly in Cork.
It is understood the same developer bought a shopping centre in Cork for 126million euros last year in what the Irish Examiner described as the biggest commercial deal of the year.
Wilton Shopping Centre is a 16-acre site with leading names and a 60,000sq ft Tesco.

Although the cinema, shops and car park land in Tunbridge Wells is much smaller, speculation is mounting about the Irish developer's intentions for the prime site in the heart of the town centre.

Last week, former owner Garry Gatt said he believed the new owners would "stick pretty much" to existing plans. He predicted construction would start in spring next year "at the earliest".

Despite the Kent and Sussex Courier's exhaustive attempts, it was unable to track down the new owner, described as an Irishman and a "private individual who keeps himself to himself".
One source said he also owned bars and off licences in Cork and would be "unlikely" to grant an interview.
According to the Irish Examiner a confidentiality clause introduced after the purchase of the Cork shopping centre protected the identity of the new owner.

Yesterday on Mount Pleasant some shopkeepers were unaware of the sale. They also did not know when their new landlord would ask them to leave to make way for building. Three shops had closed recently and others were keeping an eye on other available units, they said.
Newsagent Glenn Osborn said he thought traders could be asked to leave by the end of the year. "We've had no contact. The only thing is certain is that we will be closing down eventually," he said.
Tim Hill, the owner of card shop Quirky Turkey which will close at the end of this month, said: "I've had no communication. I didn't know [the sale] had happened."

A planning inquiry in October 2004, was won by GLN for a mixed use site including shops, 48 apartments and an underground nightclub. The council had fought for a multiplex cinema on the site.

Asked whether the council would be pursuing a cinema option with the new company, leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Melvyn Howell said yesterday (Thursday): "We have to work with the inspector's decision despite the fact an important part of that decision was against a cinema. It was a painful process and we should move forward positively."
Referring to the years of wrangles between the council and GLN and Mr Gatt's own admission both parties became stubborn, Cllr Howell said: "All at the town hall, the developers and the public had to learn some lessons from this saga.
"It would be in no-one's interest to try to perpetuate a stand-off that led ultimately to the appeal decision and from my point of view, I look forward very positively to working with the owners of the prime site."


The Courier writes on Friday 22 July 2005:

The Former ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells has been sold to a "major player" in the development industry.

The building on Mount Pleasant was the subject of the town's most controversial planning wrangles in recent years.

Completion on the sale was made on Tuesday, 19 July 2005, confirmed former owner GLN which battled with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for permission for its plans which include shops, apartments and a nightclub.

The plans were eventually passed in December 2004 after a planning inquiry, which GLN's development director Garry Gatt said left the firm with £500,000 costs.

Interest in buying the site had been shown by many companies during the planning process.

The redundant cinema site, which straddles Mount Pleasant and Church Road, was never put up for sale, said Mr Gatt who spoke exclusively to the Kent and Sussex Courier yesterday (Thursday, 21 July 2005).
He said: "We were still contemplating developing it ourselves. It was always our intention but purely because of the delays, we thought should we cash in or stay a bit longer. They came up with a very good offer which was acceptable to ourselves."
He said he felt "sad" because he would not play a part in the development.

Mr Gatt would not reveal who the new owners were but he believed they would "stick pretty much" to the plans.
"I think they would like to sit down with the planners and talk about any possible improvements. Maybe one good thing that has come out of this is handing the reins over to another party. Perhaps the barriers between us and the planners will not be there with new owners," he said.

When asked if he thought the issue of building a cinema on the site would resurface, he said: "I would beg everyone not to raise it again. We have sat down with the purchaser and they know the history of the site and it will further delay the development. Let's get the new development on site and regenerate the town centre, not fall further and further behind. Tunbridge Wells has to play catch up in terms of regeneration."

January 2005 -
information by: Dundas & Wilson UK Corporate & Commercial Law Firm

Ritz Cinema, Tunbridge Wells receives £ 4.45m finance from Bank of Scotland

Client : Bank of Scotland

Credential Summary :
Refinancing by specialist purchasing vehicle, GLN Copenhagen Southern Ltd. of Ritz Cinema, Tunbridge Wells, by Bank of Scotland.

Completion date : May 2003

Value : £ 4.45 million
[ GLN, office in St John's Road, Tunbridge Wells, paid £2.5 million ]

Lead Contact : Carolyn Agnew
Team member(s) : Stephen Farmer


The Courier writes on Friday 24 December 2004:

A Cinema will not be built on the former Ritz buildings in the heart of Tunbridge Wells after a planning inspector backed developer GLN's appeal.

Bosses at GLN are "delighted" with the hard-fought result, but described planners at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council as "obstructive and unhelpful".

The father and son team, Michael and Garry Gatt, said although they had commented little publicly on the wrangles, they were tired of being seen as the "bad developer" which would not provide a cinema.
"We are Tunbridge Wells developers. We live and breathe in Tunbridge Wells the same as everyone else. Our site is a major landmark built in the centre of town," said development director Garry.
They said since buying the site in 2001 council planners had given little guidance and failed to look into the implications of a covenant on the land, despite their warnings.
Because of "going backwards and forwards" with the planners, it was not until March 2003 the application finally went before the western area planning committee, where it was duly refused as it lacked a movie theatre.

The £20 million plans were for a nightclub, shops and apartments on the plot which straddles Mount Pleasant and Church Road.

The Gatts criticised the council for its planning brief which included a cinema and then its public consultation, which they believed misled the public into thinking a cinema was a feasible option.
"They did not check at the Land Registry. I told them about the covenant in February 2001 and that the planning brief breached the covenant. We told them again in April and they ignored us. The public consultation was in April. We all want things but if someone told you the facts, you could make a better informed decision," said Garry.

Consistent denial by GLN since 2001 that a cinema was financially viable was backed by government inspector Laura Graham who revealed her findings on Friday.
She said after the lengthy inquiry which began in February 2004: "In the circumstances I regard it as far from certain that an environmentally acceptable and financially viable scheme, which included a cinema, could be developed on this site."

Because of the covenant on the existing ABC cinema plot, it would have been necessary to build a multiplex on the car park behind. Due to the stadium design of movie theatres, the Gatts said the building would have looked "horrendous" from some angles.

Crucially, the inspector also defended GLN and its solicitor Jason Towell, who was accused by Cllr Roy Bullock in a council meeting in September 2004 of "implied threats" when he said his client would revert to fallback plans if it lost the appeal.

These plans included conversion of the cinema as a nightclub and an office development behind Pizza Hut which already had permission.
She said: "I do not accept the fallback position should be dismissed as a threat by the appellant to gain planning permission."
She concluded GLN's development would enhance the "vitality and viability" and said that while the building may not be to everyone's taste, it would "enhance the character and appearance of this important site" and the conservation area.

Managing director Michael said although there were "lots of champagne corks popping" on Friday when they received the inspector's result, they were angry at the escalating costs caused by the delay.
The appeal cost alone - without the losses of owning a redundant site for years - were in excess of £500,000, he said.
"It was an unjustified expense forced on us by the borough council. We estimate the council's cost for the appeal must be in excess of £250,000.
"One would question whether this is taxpayers' money well spent - given the inspector's decision, I think not," said Garry, who added work on site will begin next summer with completion scheduled for 2007.
Asked what he viewed as the council's main failing in relation to the site, Garry said: "There seems to be no accountability at the borough council. The council has lost another major planning appeal and I would love to see how many they have lost, to the cost of taxpayers."

The inspector rejected GLN's application for costs but the Gatts will "review their position" in the new year.

Council head of planning services David Prentis said: "Our costs for this unusually lengthy and complex inquiry were around £220,000, which included our team of six professional witnesses and our QC."

Portfolio holder for planning and transportation Cllr Roy Bullock said: "The planning brief reflected the wishes of the community and hence the decision must be a disappointment to our residents.
"As part of the new Local Development Framework we will once again test public opinion and site availability for a town centre cinema."

Between April and 30 November 2004 (8 months), the council received 50 appeal decisions. Out of these 32 were dismissed and 18 allowed. The council lost 18 appeals (36 per cent of the 50 appeals).


There will be a SPECIAL WESTERN AREA PLANNING COMMITTEE meeting at the Town Hall's Council Chambers on Thursday, 16 September 2004, 2 pm.

The reports are at:

Joint Report of Head of Strategy and Development (Tony Fullwood) and Head of Planning Services (David Prentis):
The Borough Council is involved in a Public Inquiry into the future of the site of the former Ritz / ABC Cinema and adjoining land in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells. In presenting evidence to the Inquiry, the Council has engaged consultant architects to prepare plans of a mixed retail and residential development scheme which incorporate a new cinema, in accordance with the Council’s approved Planning Brief for the site, and the Council’s Local Plan Review policy. The Inquiry began in February 2004, sat for one week, and is now reconvening in October.
This report updates Members [TWBC Councillors] on progress with matters being considered at the Inquiry, including issues relating to a restrictive covenant affecting the site, potential operator interest and development viability. It confirms that the Council’s plans, submitted in evidence to the Inquiry, are in accord with the Local Plan policy, in relation to this site and the principles contained in the Planning Brief. It also confirms the potential commercial viability of the schemes, and the existence of at least one prospective cinema operator.
In order to improve the commercial viability of the scheme, including a cinema, the report recommends that the proportion of affordable housing units that would normally be required be reduced.

Telephone House Neighbours Association's plea to consider relaxing the affordable housing as per para 6.38 of the Local Plan Review was simply ignored. - Strangely the same paragraph 6.38 is now used to justify the reduction of the affordable housing units at the Cinema site, only 100 metres from the extremely high density development of Telephone House site, Church Road.


The Editor of the "Community Bulletin" writes on 3 September 2004:
( for free CB copies - email: )
Tunbridge Wells Town Centre - The Future

The Appeal Court has now ruled that a cinema can be built on the former ABC site. The Courier had comments from the Civic Society which we believe that all our readers may well agree with. Let me quote the central passage of John Cunningham (Vice Chairman of the Civic Society)'s Statement:-
"What is put on that site ... will be there for at least 60 years and will become part of he image of the town in the future. It is therefore of vital importance that it should be [the] best architecture possible and not just the usual characterless dross which is what is still being proposed by the developers ..."

The Council should ask what is it that we all fear. They will say, with complacency, that Tunbridge Wells has been voted the best town in Kent (by the Invicta FM phone-in) so why change anything now? We say - it is precisely because it is the best town in Kent that extra efforts have to be put into both modernising it and preserving it in an integrated and planned way.

Part of my family come from one of the East Kent seaside towns which flourished in the inter-war and immediate post-war years. My grandfather was a leading Councillor but a working man with no idea of how cheap flights and the opening up of the Mediterranean (and the closure of the local coal mines) would decimate the economic base of the town.
He was complacent but he had an excuse - there was no-one local who could be expected to see what was coming. But there is no excuse for the current generation of Councillors - we have mass media, globalisation, the internet and massive changes coming with the end of coach tour tourism, outsourced white collar jobs and (like it or not) mass migration.

The people who really love this town are those who have a deep commitment to its future rather than just to its past whether as the Simla of Kent for imperial civil servants or as first point of call for the American tourists who may never come back.

The town's future lies in it becoming a modern Wealden hub that is built to last, rejecting both the brutalism of 1960s municipal architecture and 1990s corporate blandness.

GLN may or may not have the necessary vision but we persist in believing that there is a deal to be had with the private sector over the intelligent transformation of the whole zone from Monson Road, through the Town Hall section, to the ABC site. A deal which would be centred on creating a decent environment from the very start of its planning.

Such a plan would play to the strengths of the town's history - its woodland and downland natural heritage and the legacy of Decimus Burton - and would incorporate High Street and Pantiles as the natural flowing extension of what we would come to be the best and most integrated township in England. Some serious planning is in order.

What is the point of more residential flats if the net result is a collapsing environmental infrastructure? The environmental infrastructure must be planned in with the residential base.

What is the point of a new retail sector if it merely sucks the High Street and Pantiles dry and turns the Victoria Mall into a "pile em high, sell 'em cheap" secondary retail market that then becomes a magnet for layabouts and low-lifes. Nothing is gained but some profits for GLN and a shuffling around of problems for the Council and for residents.

We are very worried about the quality of thinking amongst our Officers, very, very worried indeed. We are also concerned that village-based Councillors cannot have this vision because they merely visit the place on business.

But we are most worried about the Pantiles politicians - and why? Because they seem to be running on fear - fear of any change that may threaten their ancient mall. And yet - their fear of change is quietly dooming the Pantiles to increasing irrelevance. If the town has no reason to attract visitors other than the Pantiles, then visitors will not come.

It is the Pantiles Councillors who should be leading the battle for a massive creative effort to transform the whole zone from the top of Mount Ephraim right down to their territory and from the edge of the Common to Camden Road. Why?
Because an integrated approach to planning our town centre which encourages a strong residential base, a decent environment, a spread of service and retail businesses and a decent transit system within the centre will bring visitors to the town who will explore it. If they explore it, they will visit and spend time in the Pantiles as well.

So, forgive my passionate call for town transformation. I saw the decline of those East Kent seaside towns based on piecemeal and shoddy architectural tinkerings and on "amenities" that were nothing more than expensive white elephants. But above all, their decline was based on ignorance and complacency. It could happen here. It is starting to happen here ...

[The Editor of the Community Bulletin wishes to make clear that he understands that the Kent and Sussex seaside towns are now well on the way to recovery after their long period of decline and his editorial is only intended to draw attention to what can happen to towns if they are not managed with vision by their political leaders.]


The Courier writes on Friday 20 February 2004:
Eight months to wait for the cinema battle to be resumed

Mary Harris, The Courier, reports on the wrangle between the town's planners and developers over the former ABC cinema site.
It will be many months before the fate of the ABC cinema site in Tunbridge Wells is decided - the inquiry has been adjourned until October 2004.
A further delay in a long-awaited decision on development of the Mount Pleasant site has been met with disbelief by residents who are exasperated by the tatty building which has been standing empty for more than 3 years.


The Kent Messenger Extra writes on Friday 17 October 2003:
Cinema plan appeal

An Appeal has been made against the borough council's refusal of planning permission for a comprehensive redevelopment of the old ABC cinema site in Mount Pleasant Road, Tunbridge Wells.
GLN (Copenhagen)Southern wants to transform the site with shops, food and drink outlets, homes, leisure facilities and parking.
But the council refused consent because the scheme does not include provision for a new cinema and so fails to meet its brief for enhancing the vitality and viability of the town. A public inquiry into GLN's appeal is now to be held.


The Courier - This is Kent and Sussex - writes on Friday 18 April 2003:

Planners in Tunbridge Wells are trying to shift the blame for failing to get a new cinema on the former town centre ABC site, according to the building's owners. GLN Development Group said it is "physically and legally impossible" to resurrect a cinema on the prime spot and accused Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillors of intentionally letting the saga go to appeal so the inspector and GLN take the brunt of the town's anger.

The St John's Road-based development firm wants to convert the vacant building - which has been closed since 1999 - into shops, restaurants, 48 flats and an underground nightclub.

Development director Garry Gatt said the council had misled townsfolk by pledging to restore a cinema to the Mount Pleasant Road site without telling them Odeon Cinemas had placed a covenant on the land, which restricts a cinema being built there.
Mr Gatt said: "We are telling everyone that, through no fault of ours, there will never be a cinema on that site because it is financially unviable, physically impossible and legally impossible.
"At every opportunity we have given them [councillors] the chance to change the planning brief and the Local Plan but they want the inspector to decide the issue - they are too scared to make the decision themselves because it is too important a site for them to put their necks on the line.
"They know if we go to appeal we will win, but that will not be a deterrent for them - they will blame the inspector and walk away with their heads held high."

Last week GLN - which claims to have spent £500,000 on the project so far - saw its £ 20 million plans unanimously turned down by the planning board.
It is now debating whether to appeal the decision or use its "fallback" option of leasing the building to a nightclub operator and building a 10,000 sq ft office block at the rear - plans which the council approved in 1987.
Mr Gatt said: "This is an opportunity for us to tell the people that we tried our best to get this scheme approved but the failures of the planning department has jeopardised the investment of £ 20 million into Tunbridge Wells.
"Over the next two weeks we are going to decide our route forward. We are advised by our counsel that we will win an appeal and have a good case for costs in the region of £ 150,000, which comes out of Tunbridge Wells taxpayers' pockets.
"That could take in excess of nine months so we are seriously considering our fallback position."

Tunbridge Wells MP Archie Norman said: "It is now clear the understandable desire to include a cinema may be impractical. We need a clear lead from the council so that the developers can create a building of which we can all be proud."

Planning portfolio holder Cllr Roy Bullock said: "The council does not deliberately absolve itself of its responsibility by relying on inspectors - it still believes there is a possibility of securing a cinema on that site."

Council head of planning and building control services Nigel Eveleigh said: "GLN is entitled to appeal against the planning decision and we are confident we can present a robust planning case to support the refusal.
"Covenants can be dealt with legally - the developers could buy out the covenant or acquire additional property which is not affected by the covenant but still part of the allocated site.
"The overwhelming public response was in support of a cinema on this site and the council believes a cinema is feasible and best located on this site."


The Kent Messenger Extra writes on Friday 4 April 2003:
Cinema site scheme turned down again (Nigel Jarrett)

The latest bid to breathe new life into the former ABC cinema site in the centre of Tunbridge Wells has again failed to impress borough councillors.
A bid to develop the site for shops, homes, cafes, leisure facitlites and car parking has been turned down by the council's western area planning committee.
But because of the site's strategic importance, a final deicsion on the current proposal rests with the council's planning board, meeting on Wednesday, April 9, 2003.

Members of the area committee felt the application, subject to three sets of amended plans during the course of its consideration, was still not up to par.
It failed to provide the mixed use set out in the council's planning brief, which specifically seeks provision of a cinema within the scheme.

David Prentis, the council's development control manager said: " It therefore failed to meet the brief's objective which is to enhance the vitality and viability ot the town centre. Permitting it in the absence of the provision of a cinema would be premature at this stage of the Local Plan process."

The committee heard the proposals would also need a legal agreement to cover transport contributions, affordable housing, education and open space provisions.
The application was made by GLN (Copenhagen) South and proposed a single building, varying in height from two to six storeys.
Lower floors would be given over to commercial use and the upper ones to residential use with some 48 homes, a dozen of them earmarked as affordable, in total.

The ABC cinema closed in October 2000, with the loss of 20 jobs. It was superseded by the multi-screen Odeon complex at Knights Park, on the edge of town.
A public exhibition held in April 2001 to help decide the future of the ABC site found that a majority of the 10,143 votes cast favoured a cinema being located there.

The Times writes on Moday 12 August 2002:
Now showing: residents' fury over Tunbridge Wells cinema site plan (Stephen Gardiner)

When news first broke of a gigantic commercial development on the site of the ABC Cinema Site, diagonally opposite the Tunbridge Wells Town Hall, in November last year, many local residents were disgusted.

But then, this town is special - it has the unique architectural gem of The Pantiles, a cloistered shopping centre dating from 1606, and it has the work of the remarkable Decimus Burton.

After designing Cornwall Terrace and the enormous domed Colosseum on Regent’s Park, London, when he was only 23, Burton spotted the possibilites of this spa town of Tunbridge Wells.

He planned it, securing the open space of the Common for its western boundary, designed Trinity Church in 1827 and went on that same year to develop Calverley Park, completing this and his beautiful Calverley Crescent by 1831. Even he himself, born in 1800, must have been amazed at having done so much by the time he was 31.

Fine architecture establishes a place, creates a landmark, but it can have pitfalls. Attractive, it attracts developers, and given good communications, as there are here, and with the sudden massive pressure for housing in the South East of England (Tunbridge Wells alone wants 2,900 more homes by 2011), here is a combination that has produced, according to the volume house-builders, "a boom town in the commuter belt".

They have arrived in force and, to judge by the multistorey proposal for the cinema site, may destroy the very thing that attracted them there in the first place. This clutter of 48 flats and 7,000 square metres of shopping might well do it at a stroke.

This is by the GLN Development Group, a Tunbridge Wells firm, and is likely to be considered by the planning committee in September.

Damaging developments have been under way since 1934, when some excellent terraces by Burton on Crescent Road and round the corner on Mount Pleasant were demolished to make way for the Town Hall, library and police station, a supremely boring neo-Georgian building by an arch-traditionalist, Sir Percy Thomas. That could not happen today, could it? Probably not, but what can happen is this: one disaster leads to another that is more extreme. The guidelines have gone. That is the case of the proposal for the cinema site: this six to seven-storey block, haphazard in shape, presumably takes its height from two office structures built in the 1960s, one next door, the other over the road and near Trinity Church and The Priory, Burton's only works on the west side of Mount Pleasant.

The presence of these two fine pieces of architecture, however, rams home the necessity of having a building of real stature and quality on this prominent site in this famous historic town.

The directors of GLN fully endorse that, but unfortunately the building proposed falls far short of mark: it is a muddled, fragmented affair which should be completely redesigned.

Telephone House Neighbours Association
Comment July 2004

The Town Centre Cinema Debate

This comment proposes a complete re-thinking of the future of the site by looking at it in the context of the town centre as a whole.

Stephen Gardiner wrote in The Times Monday 12 August 2002 about the ABC Cinema Site: "This six to seven-storey block, haphazard in shape, presumably takes its height from two office structures built in the 1960s, one next door (Wellington Gate), the other over the road (former Telephone House) and near Trinity Church". Gardiner gives his opinion on the Town Hall as "a supremely boring neo-Georgian building by an arch-traditionalist, Sir Percy Thomas."

These are blunt statements by a reputed journalist on the architecture of the absolute core of Tunbridge Wells, telling us that the Town Hall is not much of a design and the Cinema development followed suit.

In May 2001 the Council ran a campaign in Royal Victoria Place to ask what people want on the ABC Cinema site; it coincided exactly with the day on which the Public Inquiry into Telephone House started.
People could put little stickers on a chart giving their preferences to among others: Night Club, Youth Centre and Cinema. One could observe a group of adolescents going back and forth and valuing their choice at least twice. The Council based their survey on this exercise and is proud to say that they listened and that the site "needs" a Cinema.
The site, however, has a covenant not allowing the re-use as a Cinema.

As residents we observe:

  1. The railway runs straight underneath the proposed development, which had up to now no residential accommodation. While sitting in the former Cinema one felt vibrations of passing trains. Will future residents adapt to "earthquake" sensations easily or will the site become a nervous "bees-nest"?

  2. In winter on wind-free days, the aeration of the railway tunnel, in front of the Cinema, produces quite stale smells from the incoming trains' brakes.

  3. The Mount Pleasant, Crescent Road / Church Road crossing is a prime "pollution spot". - Has anyone noticed the rumblings of the many trucks on that corner, and inhaled the fumes of cars wanting to cross, combined with the smell of brakes and Pizza Hut's ill-placed ventilation? How will that be if you have to live there?

  4. How can food outlets in this complex be forced to install highly efficient filters, and who will survey their maintenance so that the whole area does not smell like a frying pan or a soup bowl?

  5. Are 52 or more flats above shops and above a railway tunnel sustainable for very long?

We gathered information about the "finances" from Mary Harris' article in the Courier (20.02.2004):
"GLN of St John's Road paid £2.5 million for the site, which compromises a cinema complex, a car park and 1 to 15 Ritz building, in March 2001 to Christ's Hospital."

KM Extra reported on the re-opening of the Assembly Hall (17.10.2003):
"Three years and some £2 million later the Art Deco style Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells is now enjoying the result of a major revamp".


  1. If a "global look" had been taken at the location of the Town Hall, The Assembly Hall and the adjacent car park in Crescent Road - then the diagonally-opposite Cinema, and the open surface car parking in the rear of it, another direction would have been found.

  2. If you look behind the façade of the Town Hall you might realise that this is not an up-to-date office building from where Council staff can easily cater for residents' needs - if the building had to be brought up to modern standards (security, networking, energy saving), the bill might well be higher than the one for the Assembly Hall.

  3. The Town Hall building has many other features, which would make it more suitable for what is being proposed across the road at the ABC site:
    • it is recessed from Mount Pleasant Road;
    • together with the Civic Way, it would have the perfect shop front;
    • the crossing has not the same impact on the Town Hall area as on the Cinema site;
    • no train rumbles below to give sleepless nights;
    • it has no covenant forbidding it to include a cinema (if that is what we really want);
    • who would really oppose a floor at the top for residential purposes;
    • if development sites in the town centre are that valuable, then it is necessary to integrate the whole Car Park site in Crescent Road so that car parking could go underground and additional purpose-built housing on the top of it.

  4. and as for the Cinema Site - it would be more suitable for offices:
    • without major problems, a purpose-built modern 21st century Town Hall could be erected on that site, accommodating all services;
    • underground car parking for visitors could be included.

With the Council having healthy reserves, how can an opportunity to swap sites be missed?
What if TWBC entered into partnership with GLN rather than putting up a fight?

In view of the weak grounds of refusal for a Planning Application (that a cinema has to be included), an Inspector would most likely allow the Appeal and we will be blessed with yet another residential building of no great value in the heart of the town centre, having had to pay high legal costs?

— daniel bech / 2004

Continue to browse the interactive Map of Tunbridge Wells Town Centre

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the high-density development on Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1.