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Q&A: Whiteladies Picture House debate

2 January 2013

The original article can be found online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-20709515

Q&A: Whiteladies Picture House debate

As a public inquiry into Bristol City Council's decision to refuse planning permission for flats and a gym on the site of the former Whiteladies Cinema is deferred until the new year, BBC News looks at the future options for the building.

The auditorium, which was opened in 1921, originally had 1,400 seats before it was turned into a three-screen multiplex in 1978.

It has been derelict since November 2001 when the Odeon chain sold it.

The cinema giant said the venue was no longer viable because of the competition from the city's multiplex cinemas.

At the time many disagreed with Odeon's reasons and argued there was strong local support for the cinema.

What has happened since?

The Whiteladies Picture House has remained empty with the seats ripped out and much of the electrics and plumbing stripped.

The Grade II-listed building has suffered from weather damage since and parts of the exterior are supported by scaffolding.

More than 11 years have passed since its closure and parts of the building have badly deteriorated and some pigeons have moved in.

Development or restoration?

A number of ideas have been put forward for the building, but it remains boarded up.

Early in 2011 David Fells and Alan Mandel-Butler started their campaign to restore the cinema to its original glory.

They want to turn the building into an arts centre and cinema.

The men are convinced there is a gap in the market and that their proposal would not be in competition with any of the other venues in the city.

But while the pair build their case they are aware of other commercial interests in the property.

A previous application for nine flats and a gym by the London-based developer Medinbrand, was turned down early in 2011.

Then the company revised its plans and submitted an application to turn the building into five flats with a gymnasium in the auditorium area.

This too was refused - and has led to the planning appeal.

Why the public inquiry?

The application for five flats and a gym had previously been recommended for approval by city planners.

But this proposal was turned down by councillors in June.

Planning inquiries normally take place when the proposals are "controversial" or they "have generated significant local interest".

They can only consider issues which are relevant to planning and not to protect the purely private interests of one person against the activities of another.

Only the person or organisation who has made the planning application has the right to call for the appeal,

What options are open to the inspector?

The inspector will listen to both sides of the argument and from other interested parties and can call on expert witnesses before deciding based on the merits of the case.

After the inspector makes his or her recommendation the only form of appeal would be to ask the High Court for permission to hold a judicial review.

To be successful at the appeal the appellant would have to show the inspector had gone beyond his or her powers, or that procedures were not followed correctly and damaged the appellant's interests.

What happens next?

Obviously this will depend on the outcome of the inquiry.

The campaigners have already appointed a team of architects who are specialists in historical conservation and restoration and are planning a full survey of the building.

This, they say, will allow the plans drawn up to be accurate.

A feasibility study has also been commissioned to "demonstrate the community and financial benefits of preserving the picture house as an arts centre."

The group also revealed it had met the operations director of the London-based Curzon Cinema, Rob Kenny, who has expressed an interest in helping acquire projection equipment and access to films.

"We are very interested in talking further with Rob however this will have to wait until we have secured the future of the building," a Picture House spokesman said.

While the inquiry will reconvene in January the debate over the building's future is likely to continue for some time.

WHITELADIES PICTURE HOUSE

  • Opened in 1921 by the Duchess of Beaufort
  • In the 1950s a much larger Cinemascope screen was put in
  • In 1957 the balcony was extended boosting the capacity to nearly 1,500
  • In 1978 it was turned into a three-screen multiplex
  • In February 1999 it was Grade II-listed
  • November 2001 the Odeon closed its doors

A number of ideas have been put forward for the building, but it remains boarded up.

Early in 2011 David Fells and Alan Mandel-Butler started their campaign to restore the cinema to its original glory.

They want to turn the building into an arts centre and cinema.

The men are convinced there is a gap in the market and that their proposal would not be in competition with any of the other venues in the city.

But while the pair build their case they are aware of other commercial interests in the property.

A previous application for nine flats and a gym by the London-based developer Medinbrand, was turned down early in 2011.

Then the company revised its plans and submitted an application to turn the building into five flats with a gymnasium in the auditorium area.

This too was refused - and has led to the planning appeal.

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