Fabian Hamilton – Labour MP for Leeds North East

Dear Fabian Hamilton,

I am writing to you to ask if you would highlight the issue of the Bradford City Centre regeneration and the undemocratic impending demolition of the Bradford Odeon, a beautiful, historic and much-loved landmark building. I understand that as my representative for Leeds, Bradford is outside your jurisdiction, but the city of Bradford is one close to my heart – I grew up in Keighley, part of the Bradford Metropolitan area, I work as a teacher-practitioner in Pharmacy at Bradford University, and have many friends and colleagues in Bradford, and as such I would be grateful if you could raise the issue of the Odeon on my behalf with your fellow MPs for Bradford.

The decisions that have been made regarding Bradford’s regeneration, including plan for the Odeon, and in particular the undemocratic way in which they have been handled, are of great concern to me. I would be most grateful if you could let me know the outcome of your discussions with your Bradford colleagues.

This issue is not just about nostalgia over a nice building – this is about democracy, destruction of a city centre, and local pride. The people of Bradford have lost many beautiful buildings despite objecting to their demolition, despite them being easily restorable; they have to live with the infamous “Westfield Hole”, a gigantic building site smack in the middle of the city centre where nothing has happened for 5 years (the deal between the contractors and the council fell through well before the recession, despite the council promising they had put in measures to prevent this happening); and there is much cover-up and misinformation from the council about the Odeon’s case.

Bradfordians have lost faith in their council – they do not believe that even if the Odeon was demolished that anything would be built in its place. Plans for the new development appear unsustainable and are unwanted by anyone other than those with vested financial interests. Bradfordians are sick of being ignored and they are sick of being told that regeneration means knocking down their heritage and building faceless monstrosities that cannot be maintained in their place (as has happened with previous development work in Bradford, and appears to be the plan for the Odeon site). It would be much cheaper to restore the Odeon (est £6m) than to knock it down and rebuild (est £40m), but the council is not interested in how their electorate want their money spent.

Bradford Odeon is now marked for demolition, following a private meeting of 7 councillors (originally voting 5-2 to keep the Odeon, but following a further meeting with a lawyer where it was suggested that Yorkshire Forward may sue if they voted to keep it, changed their votes to 4-3 in favour of demolition. Yorkshire Forward have since said that they would never have sued). English Heritage, despite being in favour of saving the Odeon in November 2008 (link to full letter here: http://tinyurl.com/y8878me), have also unexplainedly changed their minds to supporting the new development by July 2009. Communities Secretary John Denham has evidently decided not to get involved in overturning the decision to demolish, and now all that stops the destruction of this highly symbolic building is the legal wrangling to satisfy contractual agreements before full planning permission is granted by the council.

However, there is huge strength of public feeling that this building should be saved and restored. Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) and individuals throughout Bradford will continue to campaign and show the council how important the Odeon and the city centre regeneration are to them, but we need support from higher up than local government and local business if we are to avoid resorting to standing in front of the bulldozers (which many, young and old, have already pledged to do).

The people of Bradford deserve to have a transparent process regarding the fate of their publically owned and historic landmark, but there are too many questions here that go unanswered.

Some further information:

– In particular, voters and supporters of democracy like myself are angered by the promises that have been made by Bradford Council – and broken – that they would listen to the people of Bradford. 2000+ written objections were “lost” in Bradford council’s planning office – we were assured not to worry as those people whose objections had been lost would be written to. Constant public support for saving the Odeon has been ignored.

– We are also unhappy about the lies we have been told that the Odeon is unsafe and structurally unsound (apart from water damage caused by the sabotaging of internal drainage systems – clearly visible on photographs, all the recent independent surveys indicate that whilst work needs to be done to the building, none of it is “major” other than to the lower domes’ steelwork. Most of the damage appears to be recent due to neglect at the hands of the current owners (who bought the building with public money, and are therefore caretakers of the building for the people of Bradford, not private owners as they would have us believe). Hundreds of interior photographs document this.

-A summary of the history of the Odeon and the campaign to save it from local independent arts magazine beep!: http://issuu.com/beeplucas/docs/odeonzine

-The Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG)’s website, including outcomes of public meetings, images, news and history of the campaign to save the Odeon and other parts of Bradford City Centre: http://www.bradfordodeonrescuegroup.co.uk/page2.php.

-Very recent news prior to the Save the Odeon demonstration on 31st October, including interior photographs: http://northern-indymedia.org/articles/274

-Bradford Civic Society represents the people of Bradford and have consulted on the regeneration Bradford City centre – here are their proposals for common sense regeneration of the city’s rich architecture: http://www.bradfordcivicsociety.co.uk/

News can also be found at the Telegraph and Argus website, although do note that BORG have discovered that the T&A stand to gain financially from the Odeon’s demolition as it would allow them to sell their offices without a direct competitor, hence the “down-played” tone to their Odeon articles.

Once more, I would be so grateful if you could let me have feedback on your discussions with your Bradford MP colleagues.

Yours sincerely,

Elly W

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