PRESSURE has piled on for Empire to complete the redevelopment of the multi-million pound Ealing cinema or lose it for good.
The site which has been abandoned by the company for more than a year has left an unsightly presence in the town centre, and Ealing council have demanded Empire bosses provide answers as to why the revamp is still being neglected.
Town hall officials sent a letter warning to the chief executive of Empire Cinema, that failure to respond will force a completion notice to be served on May 1. And following this, the authority will proceed to buy the site, in a bid to prevent further damage in the heart of Ealing.
Cllr David Millican, cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said: "This has been languishing for far too long. It is imperative we do something about it, Empire cannot let it go on for any longer. We have put the chief executive under notice and we will step in and take it from there. People in Ealing have run out of patience, and as a local resident, so have I.
"We need quality facilities in Ealing and there are enough people in the area who would support it. Aside from that, it looks ugly standing in the middle of the centre. If we do not hear back from them in the given period then we will start the process to purchase the site. We need to meet needs of people in the borough and we are committed and determined to resolve the matter and we will stick it out."
Plans to demolish most of the historic cinema building on Uxbridge Road were submitted back in November 2008, in order to make way for a £20million complex featuring 16 screens, a restaurant and café over two floors.
But no sooner had the building been destroyed, retaining only the ornate façade, which was planned to be merged into the new complex, the construction site was abandoned.
With the original date of completion set for summer 2011, it is likely that cinema-goers in the borough will now have to wait far longer.
In the letter sent on April 1 to Justin Ribbons, Brendon Walsh, director of regeneration says he has been seeking an update on the progress of the scheme for some time.
"It is unacceptable for Empire to have started on a scheme in such a prominent town centre location only for work to have stopped for a long period leaving an eyesore that has a detrimental effect on the vitality of the town centre.
"I have now received confirmation that the Council has powers under section 91 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 to serve a completion notice where we are of the opinion that development will not be completed within a reasonable period. The notice will be served if we do not hear from you within the next 30 days.
"Ultimately, I will recommend to Cabinet that the Council exercise compulsory purchase powers to prevent the site from continuing to harm the town centre."
Robert Gurd, chairman of Ealing Civic Society, said: "We have been deeply concerned about the eyesore in the town centre and we welcome the council intervention to bring pressure upon Empire to proceed with their development. If Empire cannot continue with the development we would welcome another cinema operator coming in and implementing the plans for a 16-screen multiplex cinema."
In November 2009, a spokesman for Empire Cinemas had told the Gazette: "We can appreciate concerns over the seeming lack of progress with the rebuilding of the new Empire cinema at Ealing, but we are still committed to the site and development is in progress. We have been waiting on a number of conditions on the planning permissions to be satisfied, which have now been resolved."