Council officers are working with developers Guildmore to agree leases for the occupation of the Play Tower once restoration and redevelopment work has been completed, according to councillors.
The lease agreements would include a cinema and restaurant operators. These leases are expected to be “finalised and exchanged within the next two weeks”.
Once the leases have been agreed Guildmore would finalise its planning apllication which could be submitted to the council before Christmas 2021, with planners approving the application in Spring 2022.
Construction could then begin in summer 2022 with the restoration work on the Play Tower taking place alongside the construction of two blocks of residential units.
Councillors have been told the cinema and restaurant would reach practical completion by the end of 2023.
Councillors urge ‘concrete proposal’ for site by end of year
Lewisham Council has told local councillors that for the time being it will press on with the Guildmore-Curzon proposal for new homes and a cinema at the Play Tower despite the four-year delay.
The Covid pandemic delivered a serious setback to the proposed redevelopment and restoration of the grade II listed building. But the council remains keen to avoid any further lengthy delay.
Local councillors want to see a “concrete proposal” by the end of the year but accept Lewisham council does not have many options.
Accepting the need for a cinema partner to take on the project, any developer should deliver a “community asset” by restoring the Play Tower and not just build new homes for sale.
The immediate priority is to make sure the site remains safe and secure for residents that live close to it.
Despite the delays, Guildmore has signalled it remains committed to the project. But the position of Curzon, the cinema partner which was bought by a US company in late 2019, is not yet clear.
The council is pursuing possible providers although the pandemic has created huge uncertainty around the future profitability of the cinema sector.
The council is keen to avoid going back to square one and starting the whole process from scratch. It hopes to have further updates on any progress in September .
Residents in the St Peter’s Garden development at the side of the Play Tower are concerned about fire risks.
The cladding on these flats has already been deemed a fire risk and residents fear the fires at the Play Tower – there have been at least six recently – pose a threat to their safety.
Foliage and rubbish have been cleared from the site to make it safer and fencing around the building has been strengthened.
There’s also concern in the community that a cinema on the site without parking may no longer be viable given the multi-screen cinema now being built in Lewisham and Catford Mews cinema.
Cinemas were already facing a serious threat from the proliferation of streaming services before the pandemic. With cinemas shut completely during lockdown this shift has accelerated.
The proposed redevelopment would include a four screen cinema, bar and restaurant, and affordable office space in the restored Play Tower and 33 new homes in two additional buildings.
Guildmore say the core aim of the project is to use the for-sale residential units to release revenue to pay for the restoration of the Grade II listed Play Tower, bringing it back into public use.
Guildmore and Curzon secured the contract with Lewisham in 2017 to bring forward proposals for the restoration of this Grade II listed landmark. The Play Tower is one of Historic England’s top 10 At-Risk listed buildings in the UK.