THE row over the future of cinema at the All Saints Centre in Lewes has intensifed.
Lewes Town Council launched a fierce attack on its website against Lewes Cinema Ltd, which it has decided to oust from screening films at the venue after 10 years.
Meanwhile, support for the threatened business continues to grow, with more than 1,000 people having signed an on-line petition “strongly objecting to the unjust decision by Lewes Town Council to force Lewes Cinema out of All Saints and take over their screenings”.
The petition particularly criticises “the total lack of consultation with the cinema and the public”, and calls on the decision to be reversed.
The council has anticipated Lewes Cinema calling on its supporters to lobby all councillors individually.
The council said it was aware of various public concerns expressed since its intention to directly manage popular cinema at the All Saints Centre was announced. “Regrettably, much of the communication we have observed is inaccurate, ill-informed and sometimes extremely misleading,” the council said.
“We rebut claims that the council has acted wrongly. It has properly considered the matter in a public meeting of the 18 elected representatives of the Town with a democratic vote taken.”
The council said its first commitment is towards local voluntary groups and organisations, and this supports the covenant imposed by the church authorities when All Saints was given to the council to be used as a community, arts, and youth centre.
“Whilst the effect on Lewes Cinema Ltd is regretted, they are not a local organisation and it has been their choice to operate their business on the basis of hourly-rate payments for premises, and not seek more business security,” the council said.
“Lewes Cinema Ltd are not considered to be a ‘small, enterprising, local business’, as they wish to promote themselves; they visit only in connection with their fortnightly screenings or to mount advance-publicity posters, and utilise facilities such as the purpose-built projection booth and screen which were already in place when they first came to Lewes and had been operated for many years by Lewes Film Club – a long-standing partner organisation to the Council.
“Lewes Cinema Ltd is a company set-up by the proprietor specifically to cover their operation in Lewes – she and her husband live in West Sussex and operate across Sussex, currently at 12 other venues, in different corporate guises.”
It continued: “The company, registered in Chichester, has chosen to operate for many years taking advantage of our premises and facilities, hired by the hour, and not invested in a more secure trading position.
“It pays a few hundred pounds for screening over a weekend, and yet has enjoyed audiences which can easily exceed 1,100 in a weekend, due to the popularity of the products of a global film industry and the convenience of the premises which we provide.
“They have thereby avoided conventional overheads, such as business rates, insurance, licensing for public entertainment, building maintenance etc, all of which are borne by the council, and paid-for by Lewes residents’ Council Tax.
“Lewes Cinema Ltd have no involvement in the management or operation of the All Saints Centre, and have ‘invested’ only some second-hand seating and other equipment that is quickly-removable and allows them greater profit; which is not reinvested in the community.”
The council added: “Nothing is being closed, or significantly changed – movies will continue on a regular basis for a wide variety of audiences, as now, including all the latest popular releases.
“Film programming, hire, publicity and screenings will be organised for the council by Lewes Film Club, who will continue their complementary programme of classic and Art House films on alternate weekends, independent of this agreement.”