Revealed: Kettering bingo hall could become food court with rooftop restaurant

Exciting plans have been unveiled

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 8:00 am
Gala Bingo, Kettering

One of Kettering' s most remarkable buildings could be turned into a food court with a rooftop restaurant.

The old Gala Bingo hall in High Street has sat largely empty - save for its infamous £3m cannabis factory - since the last full house was called when it closed down in 2018.

Campaigners had it listed as an asset of community value in a bid to safeguard the future of the historic site, with its art-deco frontage and auditorium.

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Gala Bingo, Kettering

Several calls had been made to return it to its former glory as it sat in a state of disrepair, with break-ins and even a suspected arson attack on Sunday (October 17).

And now plans have been unveiled which could see the site transformed into a huge community space again.

Alison Holland, from the Kettering Town Centre Partnership, said she hopes its becomes a place where residents can enjoy themselves once more.

She said: "We really, really would love to see it being repaired and made to look beautiful again.

A drawing of plans for the ground floor.

"It's such an important part of the town and a key location which we want to see used as a place for people to enjoy themselves.

"We welcome any investment in it."

Cllr Anne Lee (Labour, Windmill), was thrilled to hear of the plans for the site.

She said: "Kettering residents have been asking for ages about what is going to happen to the property so it's great that it's going to be brought back into use.

The 2019 cannabis factory. Picture: David Jackson

"We trust that the building won't lose its remarkable features - it's a building like no other that I have ever seen."

Hanif Properties - a London and south east based developer - has submitted two applications to North Northamptonshire Council as part of its Midlands expansion plans.

The first bid is to change part of the bingo hall to retail-led 'flexible' use including six ground floor eateries with a communal seating area, mixed use on the upper floor and a rooftop restaurant.

Plans do not reveal what food would be on offer or who would run the rooftop restaurant, but say it could create 25 full-time and 10 part-time jobs.

The site was even the subject of a comical card. Credit: The Bean Hive

A planning statement said: "It is envisaged that the proposed change of use will deliver approximately 505 sq m of restaurant/cafe floor area to the ground floor, approximately 500 sq m of recreation/leisure use to the first floor, and a rooftop restaurant/cafe of approximately 274 sq m in area.

A second bid wants to change the rear of the bingo hall to nine separate units for a range of businesses, as well as creating a new rear access.

Plans say this could create 40 full-time and 10 part-time jobs.

It is also planned that the Gala Bingo signage and new art-deco style canopy would be removed with what plans say would be a 'sensitive repair'.

Hanif Properties say there is little prospect of it being re-used as a bingo hall.

Drawings submitted as part of the plans also show a gym/yoga area on the first floor.

A preliminary meeting with senior council planners found it was 'likely' their applications would be recommended for approval.

A planning statement said: "The proposals will ensure the utilisation and re-use of an acknowledged key landmark building within the town centre and a building of local interest.

"Although the building does not warrant entry on the Historic England National Heritage List, it is still a noteworthy building acknowledged as a ‘splendid building’ in the Kettering Conservation Area Appraisal. It is understood that there are few art deco-style buildings within Kettering.

"Re-use of the building will ensure it does not fall into a state of disrepair and deteriorate and will be maintained for use and appreciation by current and future generations."

Built on a former drapery store, the site was opened as Regal Cinema on Boxing Day in 1936 by Earl Spencer.

In 1947 it was taken over by Granada Theatres and hosted several concerts, eventually closing in 1974, before it was later taken over by Gala Bingo who closed it in 2018.

The site made headlines around the world in June 2019 and was even depicted in a 'Ganja Bingo' Christmas card from fellow High Street shop The Bean Hive.

Officers found a full house of 2,000 cannabis plants there, spread across two rooms right under shoppers' noses, potentially worth almost £3m.

Just four months before that another drug farm set up by brazen criminals had been discovered there by 'urban explorers'.

But despite a huge investigation and forensic evidence the case file into the 2019 raid was closed almost a year later, leaving police frustrated.

Since then the site sat empty for many months but in August work to remove asbestos from the site got under way, with workers on-site telling our reporters it was likely to become a banquet hall and Indian restaurant.

On Sunday police and fire crews were called to the old bingo hall after a suspected arson attack.