Cinema campaign: Time to up the stakes and bring operator to Kirkcaldy

We've seen the graphics showing a gleaming cinema sitting on Kirkcaldy's waterfront in the very heart of our town centre.

Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:00 pm
cinema generic graphic

The reality is we are still some distance from strolling up to order a bucket of popcorn before taking our seats to enjoy the latest blockbuster.

And if we are to bring a cinema back to Kirkcaldy, we have to get involved.

It is 18 years since this town last had a picture house.

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Robin Presswood, Head of Service Fife Council - Economy, Planning & Employability Services

In that time, an entire generation has grown up having to make the long journey to Dunfermline to see the latest movies.

For a town of this size, one that sits at the very heart of the Kingdom, that is simply incredible.

It is also the best part of five years since the owners of the Mercat Shopping Centre bought the old swimming pool for £1 with a view to transforming the land it occupied into a new leisure facility based around a multiplex.

A planning application for the site is going through the system and will certainly gain approval.

But, as it stands, there is no cinema operator on board.

It’s a bit like looking at the picture on the box of a jigsaw puzzle, only to open it up and find you are missing the piece that sits in the middle.

It’s all the more galling that Kirkcaldy is a town with a strong tradition of picture houses.

Didn’t we used to have more cinemas per head of population than any other town in Scotland?

The days of the Rio, the Rialto, The Gaumont, the Palace, the Carlton, and, more recently, the old ABC, belong in the archives, but the demand to go to the movies without having to make a long journey to west Fife has remained as strong as ever.

I recall one business analyst raising his eyebrows at the volume of traffic – of the human kind – which flocked to the Odeon at Halbeath.

Imagine if they were able to all come into the heart of our town centre instead of making the journey along the A92?

This isn’t just about being able to see the latest films, either.

There is a much bigger picture at play.

Our town centre remains a focal point in a way the retail park, however busy, can never replicate.

But it needs to find a new role as shopping habits change, big chains contract or, in some cases, collapse, and the retail world migrates out of town and online.

While it has one live planning application to process, the council remains neutral over where a cinema could go, but Robin Presswood, Fife Council’s head of economy, planning and employability services, believes any such a development is key to bringing people back into our High Street.

“People want to be in their town centre,’’ he said.

“But they go there to do multiple things now – across the UK we are seeing growth in food and restarauarnt trade, while town centres are opening up to gyms and fitness centres, places which have climbing walls and trampolines, and cinemas.”

That diversity also helps to extend the appeal of a town centre beyond traditional shopping hours, and gives people different reasons to come.

“A cinema is no longer about evening screenings.

“As working patterns change, so there is an audience from late morning to late evening.

“If you have a multiplex then you could be talking about several thousand people visiting the town centre every single day.

“That would bring real vitality to the area.”

The key to unlocking all of that is to get a company on board to take the plans from blueprint to reality.

“Cinema operators aren’t beating a path to medium sized towns across the UK,” added Mr Presswood, “which is why we need a partnership between the council, the landlords and the community.

“A petition of, say, 10,000 names would make an operator sit up and take notice – that is when we can target them with clear evidence of demand.”

Getting that message across is one of the key aims of our campaign – and it chimes with the work has been done behind the scenes to try to nudge the project forward.

Councillor Altany Craik, convenor for economy, tourism, strategic planning and transportation said: “Kirkcaldy town centre needs a cinema. It is as simple as that.”

He argues it would be the catalyst to rekindle the night-time economy, and bring people – residents and visitors –back into ther town centre

He added: “We all want a vibrant Kirkcaldy and the cinema development is a key part of this.

“We need to make it clear to all cinema operators that there is a desire to have a cinema and a demand locally that will make it a success. I urge everyone to get behind the campaign.”

For Councillor Neil Crooks, chairman of Kirkcaldy area committee, this could be the chance to shout our case from the rooftops.

It has been discussed endlessly at meetings of Kirkcaldy’s Ambitions, which he also chairs, and has topped every survey when local folk are asked what they want to see in the town centre.

“I am aware that Kirkcaldy’s number one desire is for a cinema and has been in every survey conducted for many years,” he said.

“It is very frustrating that the planned investments at the Mercat which would produce a cinema and related employment opportunities for the night time economy have so far failed to nail down an operator.

“It is time we upped the stakes by a public campaign to show would-be operators there is a massive appetite in Kirkcaldy for a cinema complex and we want their investment.”

With the planning application imminent, and the site of the old pool virtually cleared, Cllr Crooks believes that this is “as close as we have been in many years to succes.”

He added: “I hope that working with the Fife Free Press we can make our voices heard across the UK that we are ready to support an operator who commits to our Town.

“Kirkcaldy was a cinema town and in the hey day of the big screen provision we had five picture houses serving our people.

“How galling is it to have to travel to Dunfermline for that big screen experience with Odeon or even to Glenrothes for Kino with the largest town in Fife without that provision.

“Let’s tell the operators out there that this town is starving and ready for a cinema complex and the food outlets that come with it.”