A CHARITABLE trust which restored the Worthing Dome has lost ownership of the iconic building after a ‘secret’ sale triggered by unpaid debts.
The listed building was never advertised on the open market, leading concerned members of the Worthing Society to report the sale to the Charity Commission.
Society committee member David Sawers said: “The society is deeply disappointed that the Save the Dome campaign, in which it played a large part in the 1980s and 1990s, should have ended in this humiliating failure.
“The charitable trust that was established to preserve the Worthing Dome cinema has lost ownership of the Dome through failing to repay a debt.
“The people of Worthing, for whose benefit the trust was holding the Dome, deserve an explanation for its failure.”
The Worthing Dome and Regeneration Trust saved the seafront cinema from disrepair, purchasing the freehold from Worthing Borough Council in 1999.
It later restored the dilapidated building, with the help of a £600,000 loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF).
It was this loan the trust was unable to pay back, leading to the AHF selling the building in June to tenants PDJ Cinemas, which has operated the Dome since 2007.
AHF chief executive Ian Morrison said the sale was not advertised because it met the professional valuation and fully recovered the debt.
He said: “A highly valuable part of Worthing’s heritage has been rescued from a very uncertain future, wonderfully refurbished and brought back into use for the purposes for which it was built, providing a fabulous recreational venue for the residents of Worthing and contributing jobs and economic growth.”
Mr Morrison said the buyer had accepted a covenant ‘that requires the operation of a cinema post-sale’ and that the AHF’s motivation in selling the Dome was to secure its sustainable future, with the loan secondary.
Worthing Borough Council was also involved in discussing separate and original covenants with PDJ prior to the sale.
These are separate to the covenant agreed between PDJ and the AHF.
A spokesman said: “Clause nine of the third schedule of the 1999 transfer states that ‘The Purchaser covenants to use its best endeavours to...use the main auditorium within the property as a cinema while this remains commercially viable.
“This Clause still stands and PDJ Cinemas are still bound by it.”
But the society questioned whether a commercial operator could access charitable grants in future, and whether another charity owner should have been sought.
One of the trustees, Alan Brown, said the sale was the best outcome for all. He said: “It has been a nightmare to be honest. A small group of people managed to run this trust and got the grant but it has been hard ever since.
“It was the AHF’s decision, not ours.”
A spokesman for the Charity Commission said it was investigating but did not expect to play a regulatory role. The Herald had not heard from PDJ by the time it went to press.
CLARIFICATION: The original report asserted Mr Morrison had suggested the covenant included the term ‘while commercially viable’. This was the wording of a Worthing Borough Council spokesman with regards to a separate covenant between it and PDJ. The article has been amended to correct this.