Following weeks of uncertainty, St George started development on the site on 12 December with a great fanfare and have indicated that they will be seeking changes to the consented scheme which would result in less commercial floor space and more residential units, including affordable homes. They say that there will not be any significant increases in height and the overall development would look similar to the consented scheme. They plan to hold a public exhibition in the New Year prior to the submission of a planning application to modify the existing consent. Timing of the exhibition is unclear at this stage. Disappointingly, whilst Picturehouse have repeated their commitment to provide the cinema screens (although only after reviewing the plans) St George have indicated that these will not be open until 2019 – a full 10 years after the original cinema was prematurely demolished in its 75th anniversary year. Interestingly, the new cinema complex will be partly on the site of the old Walpole Picture House which was regrettably demolished in the 1980s to be replaced by the unlovely Walpole House – itself due to be demolished under the latest scheme.
The only cloud on the horizon is that St George have not yet acquired the whole site to enable the original scheme, or something like it, to proceed. The owners of Walpole House could resist the CPO process which would lead to delays at the minimum and possibly worse if not resolved. A regrettable loss of the scheme would be the YMCA building but we hope that it will be possible to salvage the important foundation stones which include early inscriptions by the famous artist and sculptor Eric Gill.