Save Alton Cinema campaign

East Hampshire District Council rejects calls to help protect the future of Alton’s cinema

  • East Hampshire District Council has rejected an application to list the Palace Cinema as an Asset of Community Value.
  • Alton’s Save the Cinema campaign is questioning the wisdom of building so many new houses in the town whilst simultaneously stripping it of cultural and leisure facilities.
  • With over 2000 signatories on the Save Alton Cinema petition and continued vocal support across the community, it is clear that residents’ and councillors’ priorities do not align on this topic.
  • The Save the Cinema campaign is encouraging local cinema-lovers to make their support clear.

ALTON, Hampshire – 16/05/2022: Alton’s Save the Cinema campaign is determined to keep fighting after the district council rejected its application to list the 110-year-old Palace Cinema as an asset of community value.

“Essentially, the application was rejected on the basis that not enough people use the cinema,” says one of the campaign’s founders, Kat Guenioui. “It’s frustrating because it feels like there is no vision from EHDC as to what the cinema could be for our community. We’re stuck in this catch-22 where people don’t currently use the cinema because it has been allowed to become run-down, and the council won’t protect it because people don’t use it.”

“Our research clearly shows that Altonians would use the cinema more regularly if it were renovated,” agrees co-founder Annie Lancaster. Respondents to Save Alton Cinema’s market research cited factors such as a “musty smell”, “litter in the aisles” and the fact that there is no ceiling in the Ladies toilets as reasons for not making much use of the Palace Cinema. “With investment, all of these issues currently preventing use of the cinema could easily be remedied,” notes Annie.

The campaigners were in Alton’s Public Gardens at the weekend, drumming up support for their petition and giving out free popcorn to draw attention to the Palace Cinema’s plight. Many people did not know the cinema is set to close this September, and were disappointed to hear about the lack of support from local council.

Sadly, it is widely anticipated that the current or a future owner will apply for permission to convert the cinema for residential use. But with so many houses being built in the town, the Save the Cinema campaign believes that this would be a missed opportunity.

Local property expert Phil Spencer agrees:

“It would be a crying shame to lose the Palace Cinema. Architecturally, culturally, historically, Alton has so much going for it. But at the moment planning decisions seem to be geared towards adding houses, rather than protecting leisure facilities. We need more amenities here, in town. We all know there are several large development schemes currently being built in Alton and they have produced numerous challenges and debates. But we are where we are, the developments are underway now and whether you like or loathe them, an increase in local population numbers is surely good news for the local business economy? Increased numbers of residents has the potential to increase local expenditure. I therefore struggle to compute how it makes sense for our councillors to almost oblige residents to go elsewhere to spend their time and money.”

The cultural value of local cinema is acknowledged by the significant injections of cash the Palace has received over the last two years from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, totalling more than £35 000.

Thankfully, there is some protection for leisure facilities in planning guidelines. The National Planning Policy Framework includes stipulation for the protection of heritage assets and guards against the loss of valued facilities. However, it is by no means guaranteed that this will be enough to prevent change of use – particularly in light of the failed ACV application. The Save the Cinema campaign is therefore encouraging people to continue to sign its petition to demonstrate local support for the Palace Cinema, as well as to write to their town and district councillors to express their desire to maintain this historic building in the town.

“One of the arguments we come across regularly is that people just don’t go to the cinema anymore. One has to wonder if anyone has told that to the people investing in new cinemas in Liphook and Farnham,” says Kat. “Farnham lost its cinema years ago, but the new one is a central component of the town’s redevelopment. If we allow the Palace Cinema to be torn down, it sends the message to the residents of Alton and surrounding villages – not to mention those out-of-towners thinking of moving here – that we don’t care about protecting people’s lifestyles or giving them safe and inclusive places to spend their leisure time. I don’t think that’s the message that our hard-working district council want to give.”

The Save the Cinema petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/people-of-alton-save-alton-s-palace-cinema Anyone interested in supporting the campaign should contact savealtoncinema@gmail.com

Kat Guenioui
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