Dear Mr Galloway
I write regarding the manner in which the former Odeon cinema building in Bradford city centre has been managed by its freehold proprietor, Regional Development Agency Yorkshire Forward.
Yorkshire Forward purchased this iconic landmark building in 2000 using public money. The building is the last remaining example of a 1930s super cinema in the country and is located, as I am sure you are aware, in UNESCO’s first ever City of Film.
Since purchase, they have failed to maintain the building in any way, including the failure to repair a burst water pipe inside the building. They have also vandalised the canopies on the building’s towers, claiming them structurally unsafe, although it took a team of demolition experts several days to cut through the offending steelwork. Despite the building being located in a conservation area, Yorkshire Forward did not seek permission from the City Council to perform this work, and the Council have failed to take any enforcement action against Yorkshire Forward in this respect of in respect of their repair obligations.
It has been Yorkshire Forward’s intention to sell this building to a developer, and when launching a design competition to this effec advised entrants that the building had a useful life of only a further forty years – based on a superficial, non-intrusive inspection! They implied that a full structural survey had been undertaken on the building by Arup, but this survey has never been published and Yorkshire Forward have refused to supply it despite a request made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Maud Marshall, Chief Executive of Bradford Centre Regeneration, stated in a letter to Bradford’s local newspaper the Telegraph and Argus that ‘virtually nothing remains of the building other than a decaying outer shell’ – recent photographs from inside the building show that this assertion is demonstrably false; much of its original interior remains intact. However, armed with this misinformation, is it any wonder that none of the entrants elected to keep the whole building?
One applicant did, however, design a building retaining the two towers and, once the vote was thrown open to the Bradford public, this is the design chosen. However, Yorkshire Forward vetoed this decision in favour of New Victoria Place, a development by Langtree-Artisan, which involved the complete demolition of this historic cinema. Since the closure of this alleged “design competition”, the design of New Victoria Place has been altered significantly.
At a public meeting held at Bradford’s Midland Hotel, Jan Anderson of Yorkshire Forward unequivocally stated that if a developer came forward with a plan to save the building she would instruct the Board of Yorkshire Forward to sell it to them. The Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG), led by local master builder Norman Littlewood, did just that – in the form of renowned local businessman Nirmal Singh MBE – after which Ms Anderson claimed that the comment was taken out of context. This meeting is available online at Youtube, and I would implore you to listen to this particular meeting and form your own opinion as to whether it is possible that BORG’s interpretation of this comment is incorrect.
Mr Singh has recently withdrawn his support for BORG’s plans, and English Heritage have supported New Victoria Place. No clear and coherent reasons have been cited for either change of stance. I find this highly suspicious, especially given the building’s importance. The proposed New Victoria Place development remains opposed by the Twentieth Century Society, the Theatres Trust, Bradford Civic Society, and more than 2,000 private objectors to the Application for Planning Permission submitted to the Council by Langtree-Artisan’s Wakefield based agent, Spawforths.
Notwithstanding this, the Council granted Planning Permission during the Regulatory and Appeals Hearing at City Hall. Initially, Councillors indicated that they planned to vote 5-2 in favour of declining the application for planning permission, until the meeting was adjourned so they could talk privately with a solicitor. After this talk, during which no-one other than the councillors and the solicitor knows what was said, they voted 4-3 to grant planning permission (stating, oddly, that they could not commence demolition works until they could guarantee finance for the scheme. I was of the opinion that economic viability is not a valid planning concern).
I find it incredible that such an important decision can be made by seven Councillors, and that such weight can be attached to English Heritage’s support when over 2,000 individuals are opposed to the demolition of this historic building, and only one individual expressed their support. This is the only art deco 1930s super cinema left. Once it is demolished, it can never be replaced, ever. It is a symbol of Bradford’s past importance, it epitomises its status as City of Film, and is a national treasure that should be preserved for future generations.
I trust that you will be in a position to provide a response to these concerns presently, which I await eagerly.
I remain, Sir