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Campaigners block bid for church at bingo hall

PUBLISHED: 14:20 30 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:43 16 August 2010

HUNDREDS of campaigners celebrated a victory as planning permission for a controversial church was refused at a tense council meeting.

HUNDREDS of campaigners celebrated a victory as planning permission for a controversial church was refused at a tense council meeting.

Bromley councillors rejected an application by Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) to change the use of an old bingo hall.

KICC bought the former Gala building in Church Road, Crystal Palace, in June and applied to alter it from a D2 leisure category to D1 - a place of worship.

The evangelical church narrowly outbid Picturehouse Cinemas, an art-house group, leading residents to form the Picture Palace campaign which called for the building to become a cinema rather than a church.

Thousands of signatures were gathered for a petition against the application and pop star Pixie Lott and Hollywood director Spike Jonze were among celebrity supporters of the campaign.

Speaking at the meeting last Thursday, campaign chair Annabel Sidney said: "The applicant proposes a number of community uses which we note are in many cases aimed at promoting the applicant's brand and generating income for the church.

"The irreparable harm to regeneration and vitality and unjustifiable increase in traffic and parking would not be offset by these suggested uses.

"The applicant has implied that the building could remain unoccupied, falling into further disrepair if they are not given change of use. This is outrageous.

"KICC's trustees are bound in law to manage charitable assets correctly. Leaving a property worth £1.25 million empty so it deteriorates would not meet the standards expected of the charity's trustees.

"Leaving the building empty is simply not an option for KICC. They would need to review whether to lease or sell the building to a D2 operator in the event that D1 use is refused."

The decision to refuse permission was made on the casting vote of chairman Gordon Jenkins as three councillors opted for refusal and three for a deferral. Councillor Jenkins declared he was not one to "bend in the wind" and stuck to his original refusal, to the delight of campaigners.

Scores of residents had to listen via audio-link in another room at Bromley Civic Centre because the council chamber was too full of campaigners keen to hear the outcome of the application.

Penge councillor John Getgood, voting for refusal, said: "Crystal Palace is a very special community. It's got its own character. It's a character of small artisan businesses, it's developed very nicely and that needs to be supported.

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