I write regarding the situation that has arisen surrounding the former Odeon Cinema building in Bradford City Centre. I suspect that you might have visited this venue during your time studying at Bradford Technical College, an institute of which I am also an alumnus in its later incarnation as Bradford College.
For the avoidance of doubt, the building at risk about which I write is not the ‘original’ Bradford Odeon which was located in Manchester Road and has long since been demolished, but rather the former New Victoria/Gaumont Picture House in Prince’s Way, less than half a mile from the College.
Following the cinema’s closure in 2000 the freehold to the building was purchased by Regional Development Agency Yorkshire Forward. It is the last remaining example of an art deco 1930s super cinema in the country, was the largest cinema outside the capital at the time of its construction, and is located in the newly crowned UNESCO City of Film, the first ever city to receive this accolade.
Since procuring this historically important landmark building, Yorkshire Forward have failed to maintain it in any way, including their refusal to repair a burst water pipe inside the building causing undue saturation. They have also vandalised the external canopies to the building’s two towers, claiming that the cantilever steelwork was excessively corroded and thus structurally unsound, posing a fall hazard. This offending steelwork took specialist demolition contractors several days to cut through, which is testament to the quality of the build (and steel!) of this iconic building, despite its recent neglect.
Bradford city centre is a Conservation Area. Despite this, Yorkshire Forward did not fulfil their statutory obligations by failing to seek permission from the Council to perform this work. The Council also failed to take any enforcement action against Yorkshire Forward either in this respect or in respect of the Regional Development Agency’s obligations to keep the building in repair.
Yorkshire Forward launched a ‘designer-developer’ competition, in the briefing notes of which entrants were advised that the building has a useful life of only forty further years, based on a superficial, non-intrusive visual inspection! Officers of both Yorkshire Forward and Bradford Centre Regeneration, the city centre’s Urban Regeneration Company whose share capital is held jointly by Yorkshire Forward and Bradford Council, have both strongly implied that a full structural survey had been conducted by Ove Arup which condemned the structural integrity of the building, but this survey has never been published and Yorkshire Forward have refused to supply it when a request was made further to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Incidentally, a full structural survey was later undertaken by Ramboll Whitbybird in preparation for a recent Application for Planning Permission, which declared that there were no unrectifiable structural defects in the building at all.
Maud Marshall, of Bradford Centre Regeneration, stated in a letter to Bradford newspaper the Telegraph and Argus that ‘virtually nothing remains of the building other than a decaying outer shell’. Recently, some ‘urban explorers’ gained access to the building and have published internal photographs proving that this assertion by Ms Marshall is demonstrably false. Much of the original interior – including the circle balcony – remains intact. However, given this misinformation from Yorkshire Forward and Bradford Centre Regeneration, is it any wonder that none of the entrants elected to retain the building?
It is, of course, regrettable that the public only became aware of the true internal condition of the building through trespass, however, local businessman John Pennington (later Cllr Pennington) did ask Yorkshire Forward for access. Yorkshire Forward replied stating that entry would only be granted upon payment of some extortionate fee of well over £1,000 per person wishing to enter, payable for ‘Health and Safety’. When Mr Pennington offered to pay this sum, the offer of access was withdrawn.
Although no entrants to the competition elected to keep the whole building, one entrant did choose to retain the towers. When the Bradford public were invited to vote for their favourite design, this is the one they chose. However, Yorkshire Forward vetoed this decision in favour of an entry by Langtree-Artisan, New Victoria Place, involving the complete demolition of the cinema. This begs the question of what was the point in ‘consulting’ the public in the first place. It’s also worth noting that the design of New Victoria Place has changed significantly four times since the closure of the ostensible ‘design’ competition.
At a public meeting held at Bradford’s Midland Hotel, Jan Anderson of Yorkshire Forward unequivocally stated that if a developer were to come forward who was willing to save the building, she would instruct Yorkshire Forward’s board to sell it to them. Bradford Odeon Rescue Group, led by local builder Norman Littlewood found such a developer – Nirmal Singh MBE – after which Ms Anderson claimed that her comment had been taken out of context. I have listened to a recording of this meeting and cannot find any alternative meaning that can be attached to her words.
Langtree-Artisan submitted a Planning Application to Bradford Council via East Ardsley Planning Consultants Spawforths. The application was opposed by English Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society, the Theatres Trust, and Bradford Civic Society, along with numerous private objectors. The application was declined, following which a revised application was submitted. This second application received over 2,000 objections and remained opposed by the Twentieth Century Society, the Theatres Trust, and Bradford Civic Society. English Heritage, however, had a mysterious change of stance on this issue, recommending the application be granted.
The decision was referred to the Council’s Regulatory and Appeals Committee at City Hall. The Councillors requested a visit to the Odeon to assist with making their decision – whether they were charged £1,000 each or not is unknown – and indicated their intentions which were to vote 5-2 in favour of declining Planning Permission. The meeting was then adjourned to allow the Councillors to speak privately with a solicitor. Upon their return from this meeting, during which only the Councillors and Solicitor concerned know what was said, they voted 4-3 in favour of granting Planning Permission.
Statements from Councillors in the Telegraph and Argus indicate that this decision, contrary to Bradford’s Replacement Unitary Development Plan, was significantly influenced by the change in direction of English Heritage. I find it incredible both that English Heritage could support such a hideous proposal and that the Council could attach such weight to the opinion of one Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organisation compared to 2,000 passionate objectors, especially with the number of representations submitted in support of the application: one.
I would like to take this opportunity to solicit your support in Bradford’s Campaign to save one of its most unique historic buildings. The City lost much of its heritage at the hands of Stanley Wardley in the 1960s and 70s and, though much is retained, the Odeon is the only building of its kind not only in Bradford but in the country.
I remain, Sir