NEW BID TO USE FORMER CINEMA FOR CHURCH SERVICES ‘Dual purpose’ application expected

PLANS TO use the former cinema at 25 Church Road for religious services on a ‘dual purpose’ basis are set to be submitted to Bromley council.

The move by the Pentecostal church KICC (Kingsway International Christian Centre) comes more than four years after a Bromley council plans sub-committee turned down an application for change of use of 25 Church Road for religious services.

The application by KICC, made after they bought the building in a secret deal from Gala bingo in 2009, caused uproar locally with 1,000 people packing a protest meeting organised by the Picture Palace Campaign – formed to fight the plans – in the huge downstairs ballroom of the Queens hotel which is also in Church Road.

A Bromley council spokeswoman told News From Crystal Palace: “A meeting took place last week with the council and representatives from the church and we anticipate receiving a planning application shortly.

“If or when a planning application is received the council would seek consultation with the local community as part of this.”

The meeting between the council and KICC representatives came after a Bromley plans siub-committee early last month where Crystal Palace ward councillor Tom Papworth (Lib Dem) said KICC “seemed to be having their cake and eating it.”

His protest led committee chairman Cllr Alexa Michael (Con Bromley Common and Keston) to put forward a surprise motion giving KICC 30 days to submit a new planning application or face enforcement action after complaints that KICC were using 25 Church Road for religious events.

CHURCH TOLD TO SUBMIT FRESH APPLICATION FOR CINEMA BUILDING – OR FACE ENFORCEMENT ACTION

At its meeting on Thursday February 6th members of Bromley council’s plans sub committee number one amended officers’ suggested recommendations about the former cinema at 25 Church Road.

The recommendation – the third of three – was amended so that enforcement action would be held in abeyance for 30 days and the owners (KICC) urged to submit an application within that time – otherwise enforcement action would be taken.

The move came in a surprise amendment from the chair by Cllr Alexa Michael and followed an impassioned plea by Crystal Palace ward Cllr Tom Papworth who said KICC “seem to be able to have their cake and eat it.”

His comments followed a report to the sub committee in the wake of a ‘Watchnight’ service held at 25 Church Road on December 31st last year.

THE REPORT TO COMMITTEE

The report said that when details of the “Watchnight” event emerged, KICC claimed  it fell within the lawful Class D2 use.  “But there were local concerns that the proposed event would take the form of a religious service which would fall within Class D1 and outside the lawful Class D2 use.

“In view of the number of local complaints and the lack of information about the format and content of the event a notice was issued under S330 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

“This required further information to be provided before the event took place to enable an informed decision to be made as to whether the use was within Class D2.

“A response to the S330 notice was received on  December 28th 2013 in which KICC described the event as a New Year celebration including music, dance and drama as well as the countdown to the New Year.

“They stated that no alcohol would be on sale but snacks and soft drinks would be provided.  “KICC also confirmed that there would be no preaching at the event and stated that the event would not take the form of a religious service.

“Planning officers met with the council’s solicitors and licensing officers before the event to discuss the response to the S330 notice and the most appropriate course of action but it was considered the response to the S330 notice did not provide any additional evidence there had been a material change of use.

“Three officers from planning and licensing attended the event on December 31st in order to witness the proceedings at first hand… the event took the form of a New Year celebration involving song and dance featuring amplified music and a gospel choir, and included praise and worship.  “A short drama performance was presented by the children’s church.”

The report stated the head of licensing was able to confirm that in view of the religious content this was NOT a licensable event under the Licensing Act.

“Regulated entertainment, which includes music,singing dance, is a licensable activity but the act makes a specific exemption for entertainment provided as part of, or incidental to a religious meeting or service (Para. 9a Schedule 1 Part 2 (Exemptions) Licensing Act 2003).

“Based on the nature of the words, music and performance observed the licensing officers were satisfied the Watchnight event was a form of worship and therefore came within the exemption as being a religious meeting or service.”

BUT the building does not have planning permission for religious use – a decision taken by a Bromley council planning committee dating back to December 2009 and following a huge wave of public protest which included an amazing public meeting in the Queens hotel attended by around 1,000 people.

The report also revealed that KICC have “stated their intention to submit a planning application for a mixed D2/D1 use but no further details are known at this stage.”

The officers’ report added that “under national guidance and practice, the council needs to consider the expediency of taking planning enforcement action.

“The site appears to have been used as a place of religious worship on two occasions in 2013. “Whether there is a material change of use is a question of fact and degree.”

The report then, somewhat bizarrely, adds: ” In this instance the land still retains its general characteristics in appearance.”

The report continues: “The extent of the usage is limited, to two days in a year. “There is little evidence of harmful noise or disturbance to local residents.

“Overall there is insufficient evidence of a material change of use that causes harm and it does not appear expedient to take action at this stage.

“A legal view has been sought on this matter. “It is suggested that the owners submit a planning application to deal with on-going issues between themselves and local residents.”

CLLR TOM PAPWORTH

KICC “seem to be able to have their cake and eat it” he declared.

Cllr Papworth recalled that on a previous occasion another Bromley plans sub-committee had rejected a motion of his calling for enforcement action and decided that the use of the building should be closely monitored.

“We have the farcical situation where the licensing department said it WAS a religious event and not licensable and the planning department said it did not breach planning conditions.

“The left hand in Bromley clearly did not know what the right hand was doing.”

Referring to section 3.12 of the report to the sub-committee Cllr Papworth said one got the impression the planning department thought the problem was noise.

“Noise and disturbance are environmental health matters. “If KICC were in silent worship they would still be in breach of planning law and it’s planning law they should be upholding.

“We must demonstrate to owners we will enforce planning law if they choose to breach it. “We should reject these recommendations and take enforcement action.”

The suggestion KICC should submit a planning application “seems to be a case of Bromley throwing in the towel – ‘if you breach planning law often enough you submit a planning application.

“We need to demonstrate that Bromley council is strong and firm in cases of breach of planning law.”

CLLR ALEXA MICHAEL

told members: “It’s not as if this was an isolated incident. “It’s happened on more than one occasion. “KICC have had the opportunity to put in a planning application to try to regularise the situation. “They have not.

“If 70 residents complain I’m inclined to agree with the ward member – we should take enforcement action to cease this use in the future.”

At this point an officer intervened to draw members attention to the legal view and said they had to look at whether something was a material change of use.

He said that while officers had been at KICC’s Watchnight service he had been at Gary Barlow’s concert at Methodist central hall .

“It was obviously a non-secular concert but if it had been called ‘Cliff Richard singing a Millennium Prayer’ I don’t think we could say it was a material change of use.

“The concern is that, given the limited number of events, there’s not a material change of use.”

There followed a debate in which Cllr Peter Fookes (Lab, Penge and Cator ward), agreeing with Cllr Papworth said: “We have allowed the situation to carry on  for far too long”

He suggested inviting KICC to submit an application within one month and then, if no application had been received, taking enforcement action.

Cllr John Canvin (Lib Dem Crystal Palace) said he had never had so many complaints and objections to anything which had come up on planning “as I’ve had on this one.”

Cllr Samaris Huntington-Thresher (Con Chelsfield and Pratts Bottom) said: “70 complaints is a huge number. I’m a bit concerned about where this is going.

“This isn’t going to go away” she added.

The officers recommendation to the sub-committee sub-committee was lost by three votes to five

Cllr Michael’s motion was then put to sub-committee and agreed by five votes to three.

FOR A – VERY – POTTED HISTORY OF THE PLANS TO RETURN A CINEMA TO CRYSTAL PALACE AND SOME OF THE BACKGROUND ISSUES PLEASE SEE SEPARATE STORY HEADED “BACKGROUND TO THE NEWS”. THOSE AMONG YOU WHO ATTENDED THE QUEENS HOTEL MEETING MAY FEEL A CERTAIN SENSE OF NOSTALGIA………..

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