A PLAN to force a religious group to sell an historic former cinema to the council looks set to be agreed "in principle" next week.

Waltham Forest Council officers have recommended that its cabinet agree to consider a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of the former EMD building in Hoe Street, Walthamstow.

The grade II listed site was bought by Christian group the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) in 2002 for £2.8million and it has been trying to get planning permission to convert the building for religious use ever since.

A council report ahead of the meeting, on Tuesday December 4, recommends that cabinet members agree to a resolution supporting the principle of a CPO but clarifies that such legal action would only be taken "as a last resort".

It states that if a CPO was issued then the council could then sell the building on to the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, which wants to reopen the site as a multi-purpose entertainment venue.

The authority says the trust's plans are in line with council policy to regenerate Walthamstow Town Centre and could boost the local economy.

The news comes as the government's planning inspectorate prepares to hear an appeal this week by the UCKG against the council's rejection of its plans for the site.

The appeal will examine two planning applications by the UCKG - one to convert the site for religious and one to turn the building into a church-cinema hybrid. Both bids were refused by council planning committees.

Neil Gerrard, chair of the Waltham Forest Cinema Trust, said the outcome of the appeal was crucial and said he thought it would be "very difficult" for the council to issue a CPO if the UCKG won its appeal.

The trust's linked campaign group The McGuffin Film Society is urging its supporters to attend the first two days of the appeal hearing, which will take place from 10am on Thursday (November 29) at Walthamstow Assembly Hall in Forest Road.

Spokesman Bill Hodgson said: “The outcome of this Public Inquiry will be of critical importance to the future development of Walthamstow town centre and we hope the planning inspectors will recognise that the EMD’s revival is vital to the area’s regeneration”.

The UCKG has not commented on the council's bid to consider a CPO.

The appeal is due to last until Christmas and the verdict of the planning inspectorate is not expected before Spring 2013.