The operator of an Eltham bingo hall says it is “determined” to continue operating after a general election row about the future of the site, which is marked for possible development in draft Greenwich Council planning documents.
Mecca Bingo found itself at the centre of an extraordinary social media bust-up on Sunday evening when Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham, tweeted to criticise unnamed people who were claiming the club was closing. It later emerged that his Conservative opponent, Louie French, had been campaigning on the issue.
The long-term future of the 1930s building, on Eltham Hill, has been brought into question by a proposed Greenwich Council planning strategy. The site is identified for possible redevelopment in the council’s draft site allocations policy – a planning document that went out to consultation during the summer. It calls it an “underused site on the edge of Eltham town centre, currently in use by Mecca Bingo. Redevelopment presents an opportunity to enhance the townscape while making more efficient use of this accessible edge of town centre site.”
However, the strategy has not yet been adopted and is yet to enter its final round of consultation, which is due early next year.
The site also appears in a masterplan adopted in 2012, which says it would be “appropriate for residential development in the future”.
Efford tweeted: “I have spoken to Rank, which owns Mecca Bingo. They’ve told me the Eltham Bingo is one of their most popular clubs and it is not closing. Those claiming that it is being closed are acting irresponsibly and should show more care for the employees people who enjoy the bingo.”
Then local Conservative councillors responded to Efford to say that they had been told last week that the landowner had contacted them about plans to develop the site. Neighbours were also invited to an exhibition about the proposals in September.
Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe then piled in, to claim: “Absolutely wrong. There is a pre-app from people speculating on the site, not Mecca Bingo – please stop misrepresenting the situation.”
The company recently closed its branch in Catford, but insisted that it was committed to staying in Eltham. John Dyson, the national operations director for Mecca Bingo, told 853 yesterday afternoon: “Mecca Eltham is an important club for us and the team is a key part of the local community. We are aware of the speculation, but we have a great team of colleagues and we are determined to carry on delivering great bingo experiences to our fantastic customers in Eltham.” The same statement was later tweeted by Efford.
Current Land Registry records, which are available online, show that the building is owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands, Bellflower Group, which bought it for £5 million in January 2017. Mecca Bingo has a lease on it running from August 2006 to September 2021, with the terms having been varied in December 2014.
Mecca did not address the lease when asked by 853 what its plans were beyond 2021.
The building opened as an Odeon cinema in 1938, and was renamed the Gaumont 11 years later. It was converted to a bingo hall after the last film was screened in June 1967.
Story updated at 8pm on Tuesday to include the 2012 masterplan.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– NEW! Join our new membership scheme – now there’s need to pay in dollars. Sign up at presspatron.com/853
– switch power supplier! Low-cost renewable Bulb energy will pay you and this site £50 each if you switch
– buy the author a coffee at ko-fi.com
– find us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/853.