Three national conservation societies are calling for Kingston Council to reject the latest redevelopment plans for the iconic Regal cinema.
The Cinema Theatre Association, the Theatres Trust and the Twentieth Century Society are all opposing developers CNM Estates’ proposals for the historic Richmond Road building, formerly a Gala Bingo hall.
The groups’ objections are based solely on plans to subdivide the cinema’s art deco auditorium, which they believe will “irreversibly harm” the Grade II listed building.
Eva Branscome, from the Cinema Theatre Association, said: “The Cinema Theatre Association very much wants this fine historic building back in use for the community and is not looking to block the development and mothball.
“There is clearly a need for a large auditorium in Kingston that would suitably and viably meet the demands for assembly, arts and entertainment.
“There is no need to subdivide the Regal cinema into an odd assortment of uses.
“The result is a highly damaging scheme.”
Although the organisations welcome the building being brought back into use, they oppose plans to subdivide the auditorium
CNM Estates submitted its application to the council in February, outlining plans that include an 8,000 square foot penthouse with concierge service, a Curzon cinema, and a restaurant run by a celebrity chef.
But it also claims retaining the 2,400-seater auditorium is financially unviable – and proposes splitting it into several sections.
The 1930s cinema would be divided into a mezzanine lobby bar, a children’s play area and a two or three screen boutique cinema.
The three conservation groups fear that by doing so, important architectural details will be lost forever.
An artist's impression of the new mezzanine levels - with the proscenium arch surrounding the auditorium stage clearly marked
Ross Anthony, planning advisor for the Theatres Trust, the national advisory body for theatres, said: “The excessive and insensitive internal subdivision and reuse of the existing building will damage the architectural integrity and significance of the cinema.
“Many former statutory designated cinemas are converted to other uses - but none, in our experience, are such intolerably subdivided.”
Henrietta Billings, from the Twentieth Century Society, which safeguards British design and architecture from 1914 onwards, added: “The new scheme will cause damage to the special interest of this building and is irreversible.
“In terms of viability, we remain unconvinced that the proposal presented is the only solution for re-using and converting this listed building.
“Overall we consider the cost and damage to the architectural and historical significance of this building to be simply too high.”
CNM Estates' Michael Ross and Wahid Samady on the roof of the Regal Cinema
The organisations are now requesting CNM Estates commissions an independent viability study into keeping the auditorium as a single space.
CNM Estates is yet to respond.