What does the future hold for ‘Wally World’?

A SEISMIC shift is taking place in the world of leisure and entertainment in Hemel Hempstead.

The strange bedfellows that made up LeisureWorld – and quite probably led to it being christened Wally World – are no more.

The closure of half the attractions at the Jarman Park site – the nightclubs, JJs bar and Hotshots bowling alley, with their parent company going bust – has thrown doubt over the viability of the whole enterprise.

But that shadow has been lifted by an announcement from the landlords of the site, property investment company Capital and Regional, that the complex is to be overhauled.

Details are sketchy at this stage, but the nightclubs will not be returning and swimming complex Aquasplash will also close, to be replaced with ‘family-oriented’ restaurants.

In an interim management statement on Friday the firm said: “At Hemel Hempstead plans are currently well advanced for a comprehensive redevelopment and rebranding of the scheme with the swimming complex and Luminar nightclubs being replaced by family-orientated branded restaurants.

“A planning application is being submitted to the local authority following positive pre-application discussions.”

Councillor Andrew Williams, leader of Dacorum Borough Council, says they have been talking with Capital and Regional for ‘several months’.

“The building’s facilities don’t lend themselves to family,” he said.

“It’s about taking the fabric of the building and refurbishing it – keeping the form but taking away all the garishness from the front.”

He also expects the revamp to include a recladding of the structure.

The shabby and rundown exterior of today is a world away from the bright beginnings for LeisureWorld, where people flocked when it opened its doors in August 1995.

Built at a cost of £22 million and owned by the Rank Organisation, the mayor cut the ribbon at the grand opening.

Romcom While You Were Sleeping raised the curtain on the new cinema later that year.

Capital and Regional bought the 156,000 square feet site, with parking for 930 cars, in 2005 for £17 million.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the mixture of nightclubs and family entertainment perhaps did not sit quite right.

A day of fun for the children would end when the bars and nightclubs opened, drawing in a very different crowd.

The venue got a reputation as a trouble spot at night and neighbours often complained about noise and vandalism when the clubs shut.

A couple of years ago Capital and Regional appeared to have doubts, with their annual report of 2009 – perhaps coinciding with the economic downturn – revealing the firm was considering selling the site.

Currently the Empire Cinema, Planet Ice, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Aquasplash are still in business on the site.

The Arena Group, which runs the ice rink and Aquasplash, appeared wrong-footed by the announcement concerning the pool, having recently stated it was going ‘from strength to strength’.

Communications manager Heath Rhodes said: “We are aware of the statement out there but until we have had the opportunity to discuss it as a board we are not in a position to comment.”

Meanwhile, Empire Cinemas says it has invested £1 million since it took over from the Odeon in 2006, bringing in new seating, digital 3D projectors and revamping the foyer.

General manager Richard Conian said: “While we are all sad to learn of these closures and the job losses it will bring, Empire Cinemas remain as committed as ever to delivering a first class cinema experience for film fans from Hemel Hempstead and miles around.

“While these closures may bring with them a transitional period of uncertainty, this also represents an exciting opportunity to welcome new attractions to Leisureworld, that can sit comfortably alongside the Empire offering.”

Mr Williams says the overhaul will mean LeisureWorld fits in better with the nearby attractions of the XC and the Snow Centre.

“I welcome the decision to redevelop the site and invest in improving the facilities and the family offer,” he said.

“It fits in with the Snow Centre and the XC, it fits with sports and family activities in a small area.”