Saving 25 Church Road, Crystal Palace

I’m not a very regular cinema-goer, so I’ve never felt particularly passionate about the campaign to bring one to Crystal Palace. But I do fully support the Picture Palace campaign in trying to keep 25 Church Road as an assembly/leisure building for the local community, in the face of repeated attempts to turn it into a church.


We have planning rules that designate the building a certain “use class”. This one is D2, which means it is protected for uses like a cinema, dance, concert or bingo hall, gym or skating rink. It’s the only facility of its kind in an area already blessed with lots of fantastic places of worship. This area of planning policy exists to ensure we have a good mix of facilities in the local area, and can be used by councils to prevent communities being overrun with cafes and takeaways, or losing valuable office space. I hope they use this policy to reject the application.

We also suffer from traffic, which snarls up our roads and is responsible for illegal levels of air pollution as you can see from our study. The applicant’s paperwork uses some really misleading figures to try and suggest they will result in less traffic, which is quite unlikely. I hope Bromley Council take their legal obligations to reduce air pollution seriously, and reject the application.

I submitted this detailed response to the consultation run by Bromley Council.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a Bromley resident, and I am writing to object to the following planning application: 14/04557/FULL2 | Change of use from Bingo Hall Class D2 to mixed Class D1 (church) and Class D2 (Assembly and Leisure) use |25 Church Road Anerley London SE19 2TE

I do not support the proposed loss of a community and leisure facility with the D2 use class. This building is the last remaining such facility in the Crystal Palace Area, and is registered with the council as an Asset of Community Value.

The mixed use proposal is disingenuous, as the track record of the applicant and the restrictions mentioned at the consultation events (such as censoring many films incompatible with the applicant’s religious beliefs) mean it would not be a full-time and genuinely open community asset. Were this one of several mixed uses in the locality alongside a genuine D2 facility, such restrictions would not be a problem. The town centre already has a number of other D1 places of worship which provide valuable community spaces with reasonable restrictions on their use. But as the only dedicated D2 venue, to consign it to such a downgraded D2 use would be a significant loss.

This loss would damage the potential commercial vitality of the local town centre. Church Road enjoys lower levels of foot traffic than the two other sides of the ‘Triangle’, largely because it lacks a continuous set of active facades on both sides of the street, an anchor store or venue, and of course narrow pavements alongside a congested and polluted road. The planning application would see the facade of 25 Church Street remain largely inactive for most of the time, bringing no extra footfall to the street, and it would waste the opportunity for a significant anchor venue. Two church services a week, and a number of community events inside the building, may in fact leave the facade largely inactive all week.

Reviving a genuine D2 use in 25 Church Road could not only provide a commercial boost. It would also help to support Crystal Palace as a viable local centre, reducing travel needs and so supporting a more sustainable pattern of development.

The Travel Plan demonstrates the negative impact the proposals would have on the local streets. Even if the interim targets in table 8.1 were met, then with a congregation of 400 people the area would see an influx of 28-64 cars looking for parking in the area where very little is available. Anecdotal evidence from past ‘unlawful’ congregations suggests that it results in the loss of parking bays for local shops, and substantial levels of parking in Crystal Palace Park which may conflict with emerging plans for those facilities.

This increase in traffic also needs to be seen in the context of pollution levels on the local roads. Monitoring by Bromley Council indicates annual mean levels of nitrogen dioxide on Anerley Hill that remain significantly above the legal limit set by the EU. Informal monitoring which I carried out over July 2014 suggested that levels are at a similar, if not higher, level along Church Road and other approach roads such as Crystal Palace Parade, Westow Street and Westow Hill. The projected increase in traffic would further increase pollution levels. The council must make an absolute reduction in traffic levels a planning priority for this area, both to comply with European air quality law and to protect the health of the local population.

The Transport Assessment also makes a very flawed comparison of the applicant’s congregation and cinema-goers. Two of the comparators are surveys undertaken in 1993 and 2001 (the Odeon in Tottenham Court Road is not dated). These dates are long before a significant fall in traffic levels and car ownership, and a very significant rise in public transport and cycling, across Greater London and including the local area. Therefore they will not provide an accurate reference point. The applicant should commission a contemporary study of travel to more local and comparable cinemas such as the Brixton Ritzy and the Beckenham Odeon, and to other potential D2 leisure uses in comparable town centres. Given that the applicant’s congregation will largely be travelling from outside the area to 25 Church Road, while a revived D2 use could see local people no longer making longer trips to town centres such as Brixton and Beckenham, there may even be potential for a D2 use to result in a small net reduction in traffic in the area.

Finally, I should like to urge the council to not only reject this application, but to do so quite firmly. The applicant’s continued attempts to gain permission to change the building’s use, and its continued abuse of the planning conditions through events that are in all probability unlawful, have cast a pall over this local Asset of Community Value, damaging the viability of the town centre. The applicant should be strongly urged to either bring forward a business plan for a genuine D2 community asset, or sell the venue to another party that is willing to do so.

Have your say

I’d encourage you to put in your own response before the deadline – Thursday 15th January.

The application is available on Bromley Council’s planning web site, where you can also register comments.

Picture Palace have detailed guidance and instructions, which is well worth reading whether or not you support their point of view. They also have a petition to sign.