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