Cinema site developers switch location for retirement village – Times of Tunbridge Wells

by Richard Williams | 20th August 2021

The company that had to walk away from developing the old cinema site in the heart of Tunbridge Wells is behind new plans for an alternative £55million retirement village just a mile up the road.

Elysian Residences is part of a joint venture to build 89 apartments along with penthouses and hotel-style facilities in St John’s Road on the site of the former Aviva bus depot.

It earlier had to abandon plans for a similar development on the cinema plot when, it is understood, financial backers expressed concerns about ongoing costs. That development had a price tag of £80million.

FORMER PLAN: An artist’s impression of the Belvedere development previously proposed for the cinema site

The move yet again highlights the major challenges in developing the ABC site in the town centre that has been vacant for more than 20 years.

The plot alone has a current price tag of £17million, making it financially unviable for most investors.

The St John’s Road location already has planning permission. Others involved with the project are the UK Retirement Living Fund (ReLF), managed by Schroders Capital and advised by Octopus Real Estate.

The new development is the second joint venture made by Elysian and ReLF, following the purchase in April this year of a site for a new retirement scheme in Berkhamsted.

It is also the eighth retirement village being developed or run by Elysian Residences, despite the group being unable to bring a similar complex to fruition on the ABC cinema site.

Gavin Stein, Chief Executive of Elysian, told the Times on Tuesday (August 17): “Happily we are back in the community with this site which we have acquired on St John’s Road, which is in a prime location in the town, being close to the restaurants, shops, museums and other amenities along with easy connectivity to families and friends.

“It is also our eighth retirement scheme overall and we will continue to look for new sites as part of our vision to be the foremost provider of inspiring and elegant retirement communities in the UK.

“It is incredibly pleasing to be able to have a new scheme in Royal Tunbridge Wells where we have spent time getting to know the local community over the last three years.

“The St John’s Road scheme is expected to be delivered in 2024, subject to minor alterations to the planning consent to bring the Elysian brand and experience to life.”

Kevin Beirne, head of retirement at Octopus Real Estate, who are backing the new retirement development at the former Aviva depot, said it offered a healthy return for investors.

He explained: “This latest acquisition emphasises our belief that retirement communities provide investors with a strong return and an opportunity to create a positive impact for our ageing society through delivering beautifully designed and sustainable real estate.”

Despite this, the new complex is just over a mile from the £80million Belvedere project that had been earmarked for the ABC site but was not deemed able to provide a ‘positive return’ for its owner.

The planned ‘later living’ cinema site on Mount Pleasant Road was originally developed by previous owners of the site, Altitude, who sold the land with its planning permission to Prime Finance in 2018.

Prime Finance partnered with Elysian Residences to build and run the luxury retirement village, that would have come complete with boutique cinema, shops and restaurant.

During the pandemic, Elysian told the Times they were ‘assessing their plans’ for the site before they were forced to pull out in October last year.

Prime Finance put the land back up for sale at a price of £17million.

Writing in this week’s print copy of the Times, the Deputy Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, David Scott, said the Council was in constant talks with Prime Finance over the site.

He said: “The Council meets with the owners at every opportunity to explore solutions and press for development.

“The owner continues to actively work on their options, but their need for a positive return on their investment remains.”

TWO DECADES OF FRUSTRATION

THE CINEMA SITE: Still not developed

Elysian’s move underpins how unattractive the former ABC Cinema plot in Tunbridge Wells is to potential investors.

 The site has remained abandoned since 2000, when the picture house closed. Since then, it has passed hands numerous times, but remains a derelict spot in the centre of town.

Timeline

2000 ABC Cinema closes after operating in Tunbridge Wells for 80 years.

2004 Site is acquired by GLN Copenhagen but despite making a planning enquiry, the firm does not submit any formal plans.

2008 Rydall Properties acquire the land and gets approval for a mixed-use development.

2011 Bellhouse Joseph/Carlye acquire the site and submit plans for a new scheme.

2013 Hope is on the horizon as Bellhouse Joseph demolish the old cinema.

2015 Two years on, the site is back on the market.

2016 Altitude Real Estate buys the site.

2018 Altitude gets new consent for a mixed-use development.

2019 The land is bought by Prime Finance who partner with Elysian Residences, who base their proposed development on Altitude’s planning permission.

2020 Scheduled development of the site is meant to commence but Covid-19 causes work to be suspended. Elysian Residencies begin ‘assessing’ their plans in the wake of the pandemic before pulling out. The site is then put back on the market.

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