Seventeen years of disappointment, frustration and at times anger last night came to an end for the residents of Tunbridge Wells when the go ahead was given for a start on the redevelopment of the old cinema site.
Members of the Borough Council’s Planning Committee voted unanimously in support of a planning application submitted by the developer Altitude.
Since the Odeon cinema closed and fell into disrepair there have been numerous false dawns with plans for the plot falling by the wayside and the land becoming known as the town’s biggest eyesore.
Bulldozers and diggers are on standby to move onto the town centre site and start the £45million project. It will be known as The Belvedere will include a three-screen cinema, five restaurants and nine shops alongside at least 99 homes.
As well as car parking spaces, there would also be space for either another nine properties or a medical centre on the site on the Mount Pleasant / Church Road corner.
The Belvedere is expected to be complete within the next two and a half to three years and the construction is expected to create around 290 jobs.
None of the one, two and three bed properties on offer would classify as ‘affordable housing’.
Don Sloan, committee member and councillor for the relevant Culverden ward, said: “I’m really positive about it, we have gone to a lot of trouble to develop these plans.
“There has been consultations and every effort has been made to turn this into a proposal that is in keeping with the area and I think it is.
“It is a pity there is no affordable housing but the developer has said it would not be viable.”
Supporters and objectors to the development shared their feelings during the consultation.
These included complaints that: The design is bland, it would dwarf the neighbouring church, it could come into conflict with the Pitcher and Piano management, it could lead to congestion in the town centre and the cinema would negatively impact upon the nearby Trinity Theatre which also shows films.
Odeon cinema moved to Knights Park estate in 2000 after the Mount Pleasant site closed. Another multiplex is expected to be built as part of Royal Victoria Place development.
Councillor Sloan added: “We have gone from having no cinema in the town centre to having several. Some people have said this could take business away from Trinity Theatre, but I think they provide a different service.”
Planning staff had recommended that the scheme go ahead.
Stephen Tillman, director of Altitude UK, said the developer is in “negotiations with the NHS about the medical centre”.
“We have given ourselves a period of time to try and reach a commercial deal to the satisfaction of both parties.
“Good progress has been made in developing the layouts and specifications to date.”
On the lack of affordable housing he added: “A viability assessment has been carried and unfortunately shows that the scheme cannot support any affordable housing.”
The planning document states: “The development would provide an acceptable mix of dwelling sizes and sufficient justification has been provided for the non-provision of affordable housing.”
As part of the Section 106 agreement, the developer would pay more than £601,000 to a variety of schools and organisations, but this would only be £501,693 if the medical centre was built.
A section 106 agreement is a mechanism to make a planning application acceptable to the council and often involves a financial contribution or a promise to use the land in a specific way.