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Cinema Site

The former Cinema Site is situated on the south-western corner of the junction of Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road in the heart of the town centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells and is situated within a Conservation Area.

The site previously comprised a vacant three-screen cinema, together with a number of units fronting both Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road, formerly occupied by a range of shop and restaurant uses together with an extensive area of parking to the rear. The site and associated buildings were constructed in the 1930's.

Planning permission, which has now expired, was granted for the redevelopment of the site in 2008 (application ref: TW/08/03119). The approved mixed use proposals included hotel, retail and restaurant accommodation. In 2011 the site was sold to joint freeholders Bellhouse Joseph Limited and Carlyle Group Limited, subsequent to which Conservation Area Consent (TW/11/03332) was granted for the demolition of the buildings on the site. Demolition began in August 2014 and was completed in October 2014. A further planning application for redevelopment proposals was not submitted.

In April 2015 it was announced that the site was again for sale. Some months later in September, Council Leader David Jukes spoke out calling for action from the owners and urging them to ‘do right by Tunbridge Wells’ and not hold out for the highest bidder. At the meeting of Full Council on 14 October 2015 Councillor Jukes made a statement to members about the cinema site:

"I am delighted to say we have some movement on the cinema site, lawyers have been appointed to agree heads of terms and agents of the developer will be organising a meeting with the Council’s planning team to discuss what development would be appropriate on the site with a view to a planning application being submitted by the end of the year."

Policy Considerations for Cinema Redevelopment as at February 2015

Former Cinema Site, Royal Tunbridge Wells

This briefing note summarises relevant planning policies relating to the former Cinema Site, Royal Tunbridge Wells. It does not cover all the policies that may apply, but is intended to highlight the main planning policy considerations that will need to be taken into account in developing proposals for the site. All policy documents can be found under the Planning Policy section of the website.

2006 Local Plan

The Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan (adopted 2006) allocates the former Cinema site in Policy CR4 (b) for a mixed-use development including retail (A1), restaurants and cafes (A3), drinking establishments (A4), hot food (A5) and leisure and entertainment uses.

Policy CR4 (b) sets out that ground floor uses fronting onto Mount Pleasant Road and Church Road should comply with Policy CR5 (Town Centre Shopping Area), which specifies that shopping uses should predominate, although some diversity, such as food and drink uses, may be appropriate.

2015 Site Allocations Submission Draft Development Plan Document

The Borough Council has been preparing a Site Allocations Development Plan Document (DPD) which contains policies for sites throughout the borough. The Submission Draft Site Allocations DPD has recently been put out for consultation and consultation closes on 23 March 2015 at 5.00pm.

Policy AL/RTW2 in the Submission Draft DPD identifies the Crescent Road/Church Road area of Royal Tunbridge Wells as an ‘Area of Change’ for the refurbishment, sensitive reuse or redevelopment of key buildings and sites.

The second part of the policy (2B) deals with the former Cinema site and surrounding area. This identifies the site for a mix of uses, including specifically retail use on the ground floor of approximately 3,500sqm (net).

Other uses may also be appropriate, including:

  • Hotel and conference facilities·
  • Employment uses

An element of residential use will be supported where the residential use is supplementary to the other uses and would not compromise the overall aims of the policy.

The policy specifies that development should be guided by a masterplan for the area, prepared by the developer(s) in cooperation with the Borough Council, stakeholders and the local community. The masterplan will set out areas for built development, open and green spaces, landscape, access and other uses. Development must be guided by an understanding of heritage assets within the area, key views and other considerations set out in the policy. Development within the area will be required to contribute to transport improvements, including the Church Road/Mount Pleasant junction. Other contributions will be required. These will be dependent on the mix of uses.

Development of any part of the Crescent Road/Church Road area should not compromise the wider aims of the policy.

Planning principles

The site lies within the heart of the town on a busy road junction in an area with known air quality issues. The policy framework as set out above expects that the ground floor of any redevelopment will be used for retail use along both road frontages and whilst there is scope for more mixed development on upper floors, such as commercial or hotel/conference, with only limited opportunity for residential on the site, possibly at ‘penthouse’ level or on a rear part of the site fronting Clanricarde Gardens and Lonsdale Gardens subject to access and usual planning parameters. Access to the site is a major consideration as is parking provision. Prospective developers are strongly advised to contact both Kent County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council through the pre-application process for further advice on specific proposals. Full details of this can be found on the Council’s planning pages.

Why hasn’t the Council undertaken a CPO on the site?

The Council has taken expert legal advice on this and has taken the view that a CPO is not a financially viable option. The legal position is complex: not only would the Council need to compensate the owner but we would also have to take on the liability and find the money to develop the site. This could cost around £40 million.




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