Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans to restore another of the borough’s historic cinemas caused a row at Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee.
Last week councillors discussed changes to the application for a two-screen cinema and 30 flats at the Regal Cinema site in Hale End Road, Highams Park.
Approval was originally granted in 2018 with a number of conditions but since then the building has changed hands and the intended operator, Rio Cinema, has pulled out.
The new owner, Mammoth Ltd, has asked for some of these original conditions to be changed, including allowing up to 25 of the new flats to be sold before the cinema comes into use.
Conservative group leader Alan Siggers, the only member of the committee to vote against the changes, said: “We do not have a definite idea of what happens if the cinema does not turn up.
“There’s no suggestion of what happens if there are no takers. What happens if, as happens quite a bit around here, the current owners decide they want to put some more flats on it?
“We are creating a situation where the developer could build what they want, fill 83% of the units and say ‘thanks a lot, guys, bye.’”
The owner is said to be in talks with both Curzon and Arthouse but there is no firm agreement on who will run the cinema.
Hatch Lane ward member Tim James, a Conservative, told the committee: “It does feel a little bit like we are trying to riddle out of this cinema provision.
“At the moment we do not have a cinema provider. I heard a couple of years ago that Curzon had already been spoken to and were not interested because it was not viable for them.”
He added that the cinema was such a “key part” of the project for residents that they had been willing, two years ago, to forgo affordable housing on the site.
Committee member Marie Pye (Labour) expressed concern that opposing councillors were giving too much weight to “rumour and speculation” regarding the applicant’s intentions.
She said: “Nobody has convinced me with a thorough planning argument as to what the fundamental issue is.
“We all want the cinema and that’s what the community here wants. The best way to ensure we do not get a cinema is to not give the applicant the flexibility they need to achieve one.
“If the applicant remains hamstrung by some of the constraints – which they thought they could handle, but the world has moved on since then – then the overall project could fail, which would be a disaster.”
She added that, while there was a risk the developer could sell 25 flats and abandon the project, it “would be a foolish person that would do that” given the money that could be made from the remaining five.
The application was re-approved with the requested changes. The applicant expects construction to be completed by December 2022.