The Long Read: The Leas Pavillion – The Way Forward

Following on from “The Long Read: Is our Heritage for Ransom?” we, the Friends of the Leas Pavilion, would like to let people see how things are from our point of view and our 5 years and more of campaigning, and address some of the fallacies in the first article.

Architecture is very much a matter of personal taste. As Cllr Wimble stated at the Planning Committee meeting, when the Grand was built, as the first metal-framed, concrete building in Folkestone, many people hated it and called for it to be pulled down. On this eastern part of the Leas there is nothing left of Victoriana, save the Southcliff and Carlton Hotels, and of course the Leas Lift. We, and many people, feel that Guy Hollaway’s design will be a massive improvement to what is there now – and of course it incorporates the fabulous Leas Pavilion. Do people not see what a great opportunity this is to incorporate the old with the new? Both helping each other? Just look at all the other iconic buildings that have just been demolished to make way for the new. This is a rare case, and is why Architectural Heritage Fund assisted us to negotiate on the Community usage Heads of Terms as it is a model for the future, and that is why neither Historic England nor the Council’s conservation consultant objected to the proposals and in fact stated that the Leas Pavilion would be enhanced by the proposed development.

Parking. The “loss” of the 2 car parks. Well – these weren’t always car parks. There used to be 2 x 5-storey buildings there when the Leas Pavilion first opened its doors in 1902, but these were demolished in the ‘90s. The car parks are privately-owned and the Council has no jurisdiction over them, so they could be closed tomorrow and no-one would be able to do anything about it.

Car parking in the new development. Councils do take a stance these days to discourage cars in a town centre location (look at the application also discussed in the same Planning Committee meeting re the 14 units at 1, Radnor Park Road. Here, zero parking spaces are provided). If potential new owners are desperate for car parking spaces then they simply won’t buy one of these flats. Plenty of people buying apartments in central Folkestone don’t own cars.

Air source heat pumps are being hailed as the future of heating technology. They reduce carbon emissions and have a higher rate of efficiency for converting energy to heat. During the summer they can be reversed and serve as air conditioners.

Regarding the statement about the Viability Assessment’s value of £1. The Property was given a notional value of £1 by Strutt & Parker, on behalf of the Applicant, and accepted as the best-case scenario and the most transparent way of dealing with the viability of the project by Folkestone & Hythe’s viability expert, Bespoke Property Consultants. The commercial reality is that the Property would not be sold for such a value and no developer would be able to acquire the Property for the sum of £1. Our understanding is that the actual price paid runs into millions of pounds. As such, the forecast developer’s profit is being reduced below what government guidance considers reasonable to secure funding and offset the huge risks of the project whilst still covering the exceptional costs associated with restoring this sensitive and important building.

The decibel level, 3 month hire, etc etc – the Heads of Terms for community use. This is not “OUR” building, and not the Pavilion as people once knew it – whether you knew it in 1902 (when it was hardly for the broader community), 1928, 1980 or 1990. We feel that the fact we have been included in the talks and that there will be community/FLP representation on the board will give us more flexibility going forward to keep discussions on its usage live and ongoing, and be able to amend rules as and when, according to what people want (and not just the residents). Of course we have had to compromise to some extent, because it isn’t our building, but we have secured a place on the Board and community usage. What is the alternative? Leave the Pavilion for another year or 2 and what’s going to happen to it?? Sure, the Council SHOULD have acted long ago, and FLP have always put pressure to bear on them and on the owners – to almost no avail. In our 5 years this is the only plan put forward which actually restores the Pavilion and puts it back into community use.

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon design for the Leas Folkestone

100 days/year community use is not enough? Very few venues operate 365 days a year. 100 days is actually quite a lot. I challenge anyone to put together and run a 100 day programme in a public venue and stay sane. People are also missing the point that, in addition, we have the Quarterhouse and the LCH. That’s quite a lot of seats for a town with a population of 46,000. Who do they imagine is wanting to book the Leas Pavilion night after night all year round? I would also ask how many days have the community been able to use it in the past 10 years, and how many in the next 10 if we don’t accept this? As I stated above, at least if it’s there and restored we can continue to negotiate. There will be a permanent home for the Archive – not just an Archive with no home. And yes, we have spoken about the board/plaques/donors wall, and this will be present in the Pavilion once restored. We have kept the monies in our bank account to be able to do this, and it has the green light from Gustavia/Kantion. On this subject, the Crowdfunding we raised, as well as monies received from HLF for a start-up grant, and top-up from Architectural Heritage Fund for the same reason were used for a very professional (and expensive) Feasibility Report by Purcell in Canterbury in order to have an idea of how much we’d need to raise if we ever received the lease, which could also then be used going forward. Since that time the only funding we have applied for, and received, has been for the Archive project; and these funds have been used on setting up a brilliant website, on employing a freelancer to scan and catalogue the many items received over the past few years and to act as webmaster; on holding a pop-up exhibition of Archive material in Folkestone 18 months ago; and to ensure that the Archive project can continue, no matter what.

The film production company “keen to have Folkestone as its base”? There was no commitment, no concrete plan – and they didn’t go away because they couldn’t wait any longer. They never had time to come up with a firm plan or ways to fund the idea, and it simply fizzled out. One of the partners still lives in London – the other has found work in Mexico.

Celebrity supporters. We were, and still are, supported by more who support the plan than don’t, and they have been supportive for some time as they understand the trials we have been through. Most of the critics have emerged only in recent months. To our minds we have saved a unique building that can live again – which was always our priority.

What is correct in the previous article is the fact that the Council, the leaseholder, and yes, the freeholder too, did not care enough about the building to do anything about it. But what is likely to change now? We’re living through a global pandemic. There are calls for Councils to spend money to keep theatres and arts centres open – not throw millions at restoring derelict ones. What hope is there of finding someone else stroll by with a spare £4m or so in his back pocket to restore the building and a clear-cut plan as to its ongoing maintenance? We have spent 5 years looking for a solution, begging for a lease to be granted to us – but even if we did have that, and should we have been successful in applying to funding sources it would still be at least another 3 years until any grant money would be forthcoming – and what of the Pavilion in the meantime? As we have stated before – one day a block of flats will be built on this piece of land, and it is our view that it is better WITH the Pavilion than without it, as this will undoubtedly happen. It’s all too easy for people who have not been involved with our fight, not been present at meetings with the leaseholder, the freeholder, the Council, to talk about what THEY would do. And that’s all it is – talk. FLP contacted many people and organisations in the arts and drew a blank every step of the way. Cameron Macintosh, Bill Kenwright, and other theatre folk didn’t even bother to reply to us. Even one of our Committee’s former employers – The Old and Young Vics – did not respond either. As for the owners, we can categorically state that Brian Shaffer (of the Shaffer theatrical family) said that he would never give us a lease. So, we can in all honesty state that we have tried everything we could think of.

Another argument raised recently is that there was no chance of the application being passed because a mix of residence and performance is one which doesn’t work. Well, this too is wrong, and there are examples where this does work. The Barbican in London being one, and another more recent one is the development of 72 flats above the Collins Theatre at Islington Green.

Well – we are not “caving in” or giving up lightly – we feel that this is the best, and quite frankly now the only way that the Leas Pavilion will ever be restored and ever be available as a venue again.

To summarise – we are the Friends of the Leas Pavilion. Not the Friends of Car Parks. Not the Friends of the Views of Surrounding Buildings. And not the Friends of the Tree. Our aim has always been to bring the Leas Pavilion back to life for the Community, and we continue to fight to that end.

The Shepway Vox Team

Dissent is NOT a Crime

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9 Comments on The Long Read: The Leas Pavillion – The Way Forward

  1. Brilliant to see a sensible rebuttal to the previous article and well done ShepwayVox for giving the Friends the opportunity to respond. It certainly puts paid to the notion that you only only ever publish one side of the argument or that a reasoned response, by say Michael Stainer to the articles critical of him, wouldn’t be published………..

  2. Thank you!!

  3. If you look at the design from a historical view it’s almost 1920’s Georgian look that postceded the Edwardian period. Maybe it could fit in well with it’s surroundings. It also has some similarities to the building used in ITV’s rendition of Poirot that gives it a bit of extra imperious due to Agatha Christie’s connection to Folkestone. Poirot was a Belgium refugee who came to England with Folkestone probably being his first stop-off point.

  4. The Leas Pavilion died because there was no need for it – full stop. The idea of turning into another venue space at a time when existing venue spaces are struggling to stay afloat is crass stupidity.
    Also typical of the self opinionated, out of town arrogant, to tell us that we should not have cars and that town centre car parks are unnecessary. Tell that to the myriad blue badge holders that invade Folkestone car parking spaces everyday and take no notice of Yellow lines or Resident Only permit areas. You need to get real and stop harking after an era that has long been dead and concentrate your fire on another Victorian marvel that does actually work and could perform a much needed service – The Leas Lift.
    I despair of any common sense in this benighted town, when the architectural merits of a broken down eyesore become the cause celebre of local liberal, signal waving, “lovey” followers. No wonder we are declining rapidly.

  5. This post provides a perfect opportunity to practice the subtle art of reading between the lines. Bear with me, if you will.

    `The Friends of the Leas Pavilion’ is a term that applies to a small band of people, so we need inverted commas. I don’t know anyone who isn’t a friend of the Leas Pavilion but I also don’t know anyone who is in the group called `The Friends of The Leas Pavilion’. I do know people who have left that group. Why leave now? Perhaps because this developer and architect is not doing right by the pavilion? And that’s where the celebrities come in. We are talking about celebrities in the arts who were quoted by the developer and the architect as being in favour of this development. Email Vic Reeves, Sir Ian McKellan or Miriam Margolyes and find out what they REALLY think about this development. But be prepared for some expletives. And the Theatres Trust were against this development, so you have to wonder who `The Friends of the Leas Pavilion’ really are.

    The real reason why people came out of the woodwork at the last minute is because this proposal was foisted on people at the last minute, and in a period of lockdown. No need to read between the lines on that one. Go on the developers’ website and you will still see the original proposal – for a six storey, art deco style building. One in keeping with its environs. Are they embarrassed about this new proposal and don’t want to post it on their website? Perhaps. And why might that be? Because – as numerous people have pointed out – it’s way too big, and is totally inappropriate for a conservation area. Again, you don’t really need to read between the lines of all the PR guff to see that this development might involve some greed. It does not need to be nine storeys high and it doesn’t need to take up the whole plot. Yes, saving the Leas Pavilion will cost around £4m, but how does that square with a developer set to sell luxury flats to the value of over £50m? And in a town that desperately needs more social and affordable housing. And the Victorian Society were against this proposal, or are we to conclude that they know nothing about appropriate architectural development?

    You always know that there could be a problem with a piece of writing when it is not authored, which leads to the suspicion that this is not even the views of `The Friends of The Leas Pavilion’, but one individual. And probably an individual who doesn’t live anywhere near the plot. How do I know that? Because anyone who dismisses issues of light, views or trees doesn’t really care about The Leas or understand what it means to live in a conservation area. The quality of life in a conservation area is, or should be, paramount. It is not a question of either being in favour of a development or against light, views and trees. It’s a false dichotomy. You can be in favour of all these things. In fact, you have to be in favour of all things in a conservation area – that’s what `conservation’ means. Trees HAVE to be conserved and developments have to be appropriate for the setting. This post smacks of someone who is desperate to get what they want regardless of what the majority of people think, and, most importantly, the people who chose to live on this part of The Leas.

    The bottom line is that some of the elderly and frail who live on The Leas will probably die because of this development – and that’s not an exaggeration. Light, views and trees are important for the quality of people’s lives; even more important than any development, particularly an inappropriate one. I don’t know anyone who isn’t in favour of appropriate development. This is not a question of aesthetic taste. The proposed building might well look good in the right place. This is not that place as the vast majority of people have worked out. The opposition to this development is overwhelming. The architect’s website states that his practice is for people and feeling. You have to wonder in this case which people he has in mind and whose feelings?

    In life you always have to be careful about who you get into bed with. Developers primarily exist to make as much money as possible. That’s their job. Others do not have to do their PR work for them. They can chose not to.

  6. Bear with you! Who are you? We on FLP committee, have over the past six years, gathered support and carried out much research.
    The author is FLP, not an individual writing on a whim.
    Regarding the tree, it appears to be a sycamore which apparently has self seeded, as no one would plant a tree in such close proximity to a building.

  7. JC: You mention Ian McKellen and Vic Reeves as having gone against us. Do you want to look at our FB page today and the messages of support and congratulations received from both? Also the wonderful message of congratulations from the President of the Victorian Society, who you say is against us?

    A piece of writing “not authored”? The previous piece on Shepway Vox against us wasn’t authored either – but this piece was written by our Chairman, but with amendments and additions made by all of our Committee prior to being submitted. Yours???

    You are talking about one sycamore tree. Sycamores are unpopular with wildlife and nothing can grow underneath them because of the toxic sap (don’t park under them either). The Creative Foundation took them out of Payers Park and replaced them with indigenous coastal Oaks and Silver Birch.

    “The proposed building might well look good in the right place. This is not that place as the vast majority of people have worked out“. As someone who lives in No 1 The Leas we find this rather ironic, to say the least.

    Who are the Friends of the Leas Pavilion? A small band with 3700 FB followers and 375 members.

  8. `Bear with me’ because my post was long, which I considered inappropriate for a `comment’ site like this. It sounds like you got to the end of it, so there wasn’t actually any need to bear with me.

    Thankfully, this comment can be much shorter.

    First, apologies, I didn’t realise that the original post was un-authored as well. I didn’t read that. I was directed to the present post by a friend, and I was reacting to that.

    Regardless of what the president of the Victorian Society has said, you need to read the official submission on the planning portal, which was clearly against. If you go on the planning portal you will also see a very clear statement from Sir Ian McKellen, against the development. Granted, you will not see Vic Reeves, but I have contacted him. His email clearly states that he was against this development. Like the majority, he is in favour of the restoration of the pavilion. But like the majority he was against this development. There’s the issue. Had the proposal been for a modest development above the pavilion the vast majority would have been in favour. Had that been proposed there would be no issues about car parking, about trees, loss of light, and the rest of it. Why? Because the development would not have taken up every inch of the plot. This was totally unnecessary, and to my mind, smacks of greed. That’s why people are angry.

    I appreciate the effort that goes into research, but wouldn’t it have been a good idea to make sure you were carry people with you? Go back on that portal and count the number of objections, and the nature of the objections. This was not a good proposal, and your research should have made that obvious to you. With respect, whatever is on any website website is irrelevant. The planning portal was the official record for the passage of this development.

    And I don’t understand what’s ironic about living in No 1 The Leas? If that’s where you live, then I’m sorry if I offend you by saying that it’s an eyesore, and, thankfully – hopefully, perhaps – would not have got planning permission today. I’m talking about the vast majority of people who took the time and trouble to read all the documents on the planning portal. They also did their research, and independently – not as a group – came to the overwhelming conclusion that it was not a good proposal. As did the Town Council. It doesn’t matter where you live to come to this conclusion.

  9. It is truly sad that the author of this post has resorted to sarcasm and that the comments at the end seem to be a barely concealed ‘attack’ on the many people of The Leas who objected to these plans. The most telling aspect of this is the total absence of understanding, kindness or compassion. Ironically, most people on the Leas are in favour of the restoration of the Leas Pavilion; just not a massive development masquerading as a restoration.

    Many comments on the council portal regarding this application, indicated genuine worries and concerns about the scale of this development and the effects upon people’s health and well-being. There is real fear among the residents of The Leas and there are many ALREADY suffering from serious physical and mental health conditions. Add to this that people around here (many elderly and disabled), can’t even get their normal health appointments because of Covid; this development is and will cause massive anxiety and stress – very bad for folks’ health. These concerns appear to have been ignored by the councillors and planning officers and are also ignored in this article by the so called FLC. I will therefore end by saying this: – “Not one brick of either the old Leas Pavilion or any new development is worth a thing, against the health and well-being of any one of the good people of this here Parish.”

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