Question mark hangs over Exchange as cinema plans collapse

Forum Recording Studio

Plans for a high-end cinema to be built in the Corn Exchange have been shelved because of rising costs.

The announcement, by the proposed operator, Curzon Cinemas, will be seen as a major setback for The Pantiles where traders had hoped the three-screen site would help boost footfall and business.

Blaming a ‘funding shortfall’ brought about by rising building and refit costs for their decision, Curzon said the project cannot proceed without some form of grant or subsidy.

Large parts of the Corn Exchange have been empty since the historical attraction A Day at The Wells closed in 2004. The latest news leaves a question mark against the future of the site.

Despite planning permission being granted in July last year, the lack of any visible progress led to speculation that Curzon was growing cautious after it was announced a new eight-screen multiplex was to be built at Royal Victoria Place.

This was soon followed by speculation that additional screens might also be part of any new development of the old cinema site in the town centre, adding further pressure on Curzon.

A spokesman for Curzon denied there were question marks over the Lower Pantiles cinema when approached by the Times in December, claiming the development was at an ‘advanced stage’.

However, Curzon Chief Executive Philip Knatchbull admitted on Friday that while the company was still ‘very keen’ to open a cinema in Tunbridge Wells a lack of funding means the current plans were ‘on hold’.

He said: “We are prepared to invest a seven-figure sum, but there remains a significant funding shortfall to finance a Curzon Cinema which will provide Tunbridge Wells with the latest film releases and other arts programming for which we are renowned.

“We would like to thank [site owners] Lower Pantiles LLP for their commitment and efforts in attempting to find a viable scheme.

“But, despite our joint hard work, we have come to the conclusion that the increased costs means we are unable to move forwards at this time.”

Lower Pantiles LLP, which owns the Corn Exchange and is headed by the Marquess of Abergavenny – whose family ties with the historical promenade stretch back generations – is said to be looking at other options for the future use of the building.

A spokesman for Lower Pantiles LLP said the company was unable to make any further comment at this time.

Despite the setback, Matthew Sankey, Chairman of the Association of Pantiles Traders, said it was ‘not the end of the road’ when it comes to the continued rejuvenation of the area.

“I am disappointed but something else will go in there and I believe there are other options on the table.

“The Pantiles is on the up and up and a cinema was not going to be the be all and end all.

“Trade at my Pantiles restaurant was up 50 per cent on last year during the winter months, showing people are visiting the area and that it is no longer a white elephant.”

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