Ealing is to get a major new cinema and cultural quarter, after the local council won permission to buy in a stalled site and get development moving.
The unusual step will enable a £100m development to start on site next year, delivering an eight screen, 1,000 seat cinema, restaurants, shops and 161 apartments. The redevelopment will be led by Land Securities, and will utilise the site of the former Empire cinema, which closed in 2008.
“Bringing a cinema back to Ealing is the news that everyone has been waiting for,” said council leader Julian Bell. “It is a fantastic opportunity that will see a large part of Ealing town centre revitalised with a vibrant cultural quarter, more jobs, new homes and more visitors.”
“We were determined to breathe new life back into the site of the former cinema which has been derelict for far too long. Given Ealing Film Studios’ world famous reputation it is fitting that we build on the area’s proud film heritage by bringing a cinema back home.
“Ealing is west London’s fastest growing economy and while we would have preferred not to have needed to make a CPO we simply could not stand back and allow the area to miss out on the benefits that such a development will bring.”
And Land Securities’ development director Jonathan Levy added: “The decision is crucial in allowing us to deliver a comprehensive film quarter that connects Walpole Park with Bond Street and Ealing Broadway, creating a new public square, new shops, restaurants, homes and new jobs in Ealing town centre.”
The planned redevelopment started well, after the cinema closed in autumn 2008. Early 2009 saw demolition on the site, with the cinema facade retained for inclusion in a new scheme.
The CPO was agreed after a planning inspector held a hearing about the site in April 2015. The council called for the action, asserting the site’s owners “have left the site derelict and failed to complete the development within a reasonable timescale”.
Frustrated by a lack of action, the council had already developed a planning policy for the comprehensive redevelopment of the cultural quarter, featuring a cinema-led leisure development. It held a competitive selection process, before choosing Land Securities as the preferred developer for taking the project forward; Land Secs was tasked with acquiring the site, and underwriting the CPO costs.
The Filmworks scheme from Land Securities was granted planning permission in late 2013. It will improve accessibility, linking currently separated parts of central Ealing via a new network of pedestrian streets.
The inspector considered that the site owner Empire’s relationship with the council had involved “well-intentioned actions by both, combined with unforeseeable events and a lack of communication”. The inspector also noted “the architectural and town planning opportunities provided by the comprehensive Land Secs site layout as part of a master plan are advantageous and demonstrable.”
The council and Land Securities are hoping to have the Filmworks project completed by early 2019 – so long as Empire do not appeal the CPO decision.
LPA Perspective: Ealing council looks to have secured a positive outcome from its move to put the skids under the stalled cinema redevelopment. With well-financed developers in the form of Land Securities now on the case, there ought to be no reason why this development does not now get completed, and the residents of Ealing will have a local cinema once more.
While it is clear that Empire had bigger plans, for a more expansive cinema development, it would also appear that funding was simply not forthcoming for a project on the scale they proposed.
The outcome has also shone a light on the compulsory purchase order – which remains a tool that is used sparingly. A report by Bond Dickinson LLP reports their use reached a low point in 2009, but grew again such that 58 planning CPOs were submitted in 2014. And the vast majority are successfully argued. And, thanks to CPOs in the London area, a number of schemes are now advancing, including the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, and the West Hendon Regeneration in Barnet.