A new multiplex planned for Hounslow town centre would be the “best Bollywood cinema outside India”, it was claimed as a public inquiry got underway on Tuesday (March 8).
The public hearing also heard how TGI Fridays, Smash Burger, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas are all in talks about opening branches at the High Street Quarter development, with Five Guys and Pizza Express having expressed an interest.
A 10-screen cinema, 527 apartments, and shops and restaurants are planned for the car park site opposite Asda, just off High Street, Hounslow.
Planning permission for the development, which includes a 27-storey tower and a new public square, was granted last November, and communities secretary Greg Clark gave it the green light in January.
A public inquiry is being held to consider complaints by local businesses and landholders, including those who would be forced to sell up by Hounslow Council to make way for the scheme.
KFC, Specsavers, Body Shop and the Royal Mail are among the list of 17 objectors, though the council says talks are progressing with the latter and it expects that objection to be withdrawn during the inquiry hearing.
Several of the objections relate to a compulsory purchase order approved by the council to secure buildings in Hounslow High Street, which the developer Wilson Bowden Development wants to demolish to open up access to the new shops, restaurants and cinema.
Mantel Investments, Specsavers, the law firm Bhogal Partners, ITS Convenience Store and Body Shop have all objected to the CPOs.
'A compelling case'
Timothy Corner QC, representing the council, told the hearing on the opening day that compulsory purchase order was only approved after "strenuous efforts" to secure the land by negotiation failed.
He said the development would provide a huge economic and social boost to the town centre, as well as delivering more than 200 much-needed "affordable" homes.
"In summary, it is the council's case that there is a compelling case in the public interest for the confirmation of the (compulsory purchase) order, which will allow the achievement of a comprehensive regeneration scheme, with wider community benefits that will promote and improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area," he told the inspector.
Development consultant Alistair Lewis, who is a partner at Cushman & Wakefield, said there was a long history of abandoned proposals for the site and he believed compulsory purchase powers were necessary to ensure this development proceeds and to halt the town centre's decline.
"Without the implementation of the HSQ scheme and the restoration of the critical cinema offer, Hounslow is likely to continue its steady decline towards a more localised convenience shopping role with the majority of higher order shopping migrating to nearby centres like Westfield London and Kingston," he said.
"It is clear from the long history of the HSQ site that there was no reasonable prospect of the required comprehensive scheme delivered by any other route that the one now being taken by the council; that the required scheme was not achievable by other means than compulsory purchase."
'Only way to stop steady decline of Hounslow town centre'
He added that terms had already been agreed with the food chains TGI Fridays, Smash Burger, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas to open branches within the development. He said negotiations were also progressing with Five Guys and Pizza Express.
Brendon Walsh, the council’s executive director for regeneration, told the hearing the development would be a “game changer” for Hounslow, which had lost trade to surrounding town centres in recent years.
He said the new 10-screen cinema and the large public square in particular would attract more visitors and encourage them to spend longer in the town centre.
'Best Bollywood cinema outside India'
He said: “Hounslow town centre currently lacks a multiplex cinema and restaurant offer. (The developer) WBD’s selected Cinema Operator, Cineworld, propose to build a cinema that, along with running English Language films, will be the best Bollywood cinema outside India.”
The developer Wilson Bowden Development, a subsidiary of Barratt, intends to begin work in early 2017 and to complete the project in September 2020, with the cinema scheduled to open in August 2019.
William Robinson, the development director for Wilson Bowden Development, said the project would create 500 jobs once building was completed.
"The High Street Quarter scheme is a long held aspiration of the council and is critical to the underpinning of the long term vibrancy and vitality of Hounslow Town Centre," he said.
"We are extremely proud of our proposals and the wider regenerative benefits that they will deliver for the town centre and the wider borough and we are privileged to have been chosen by the council as their development partner."
The inquiry has yet to hear from the objectors, who are due to give evidence in the coming days.
'No justification for demolishing buildings'
But Bhogal Partners claims in its submission that there is "no justification" for demolishing long-standing buildings on the High Street simply to widen the entrance to the new shopping centre.
The solicitors practice raises concerns about the lack of affordable office space in the borough, which it argues this scheme will exacerbate.
It also accuses the council of "negligence" because a search carried out in 2012 failed to show the building it now occupies would be required for the proposed development.
The inquiry, taking place at the Park Grand London Heathrow Hotel, in Great West Road, Hounslow, is scheduled to sit for nine days, ending on Tuesday, March 22.
The inspector Alwyn Nixon will then produce a report for consideration by communities secretary Greg Clark, who will make the final decision.