Mayor attacks plans to convert former cinema on Whiteladies Road
BRISTOL'S elected mayor has spoken out against plans to convert Clifton's former cinema into flats.
George Ferguson attacked proposals for the former Whiteladies Picture House at a public inquiry, claiming they would damage the vibrancy of the area.
The inquiry opened yesterday after the building's owners Medinbrand contested Bristol City Council's decision to refuse plans to turn the former Odeon cinema into six flats and a gym.
On the first day of a four-day inquiry being held at the Mansion House in Clifton, architect Mr Ferguson said he wanted to see the Grade II-listed building brought back to life as a cinema, theatre or performance venue.
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He criticised English Heritage for "failing in its responsibilities" to protect the decaying cinema, one of a raft to have been built after the First World War.
Mr Ferguson, who also accused English Heritage of making a mistake in sanctioning the redevelopment of the city's Canon's Marsh in the 1990s, said: "Changing a cinema into residential damages the vibrancy of the area and, to a degree, the value of the building.
"English Heritage has failed in terms of its responsibilities to defend the building. It's important to find an appropriate re-use for historic buildings and English Heritage's purpose is to defend our heritage. I deplore the fact they have given in because it's going on for such a long time.
"There are creditable alternative uses for this building – a cinema or appropriate theatre or similar use.
"I believe this building contributes enormous vitality to Whiteladies Road, which is threatened in other ways."
Mr Ferguson also criticised Odeon, which closed the cinema in 2000 due to an apparent lack of custom, for trying to place a covenant on the building preventing it reopening as a cinema. He said: "I have a lifelong interest in historic buildings and Bristol itself. I was sad when the cinema closed as the ABC many years ago and was particularly angry with Odeon putting a covenant on a listed building.
"It's not just the fabric of the building – the purpose of the building disappears if it doesn't have that use."
He added: "I'm opposed to the inappropriate carving up of the interior – the plans are not something that are badly done – it's badly conceived."
Plans for the iconic building had been recommended for approval by council officers but were refused permission by councillors in June.
When cross-examined by Medinbrand's barrister Gary Grant, Mr Ferguson said officers ought to offer neutral advice but were occasionally "beaten down" into recommending approval by "continual re-applications". He said: "They believe they are neutral but in the end get tired of turning things down. Persistence pays but it should be the right approach that pays."
Earlier in the hearing, Mr Grant said Bristol was already well-served for cinemas, with 77 screens operating in the city. He described the homes plan as a "golden opportunity which should be taken".