A call for accountability at Bradford Council

Dear Mr. Hopkins,

I am writing to complain about the undemocratic and unrepresentative decision taken by the Regulatory and Appeals Committee on 23rd September of this year to demolish the former Odeon cinema building on Prince’s Way and to grant planning permission to the proposed New Victoria Place development. I now realise that I should probably have written earlier, but I had come to believe that there was no further recourse available to save the building, and was hoping for further legal guidance before submitting my complaint.

I sat though almost the whole of September 23rd’s lengthy meeting, returning for the late session and enduring till the bitter end to witness the committee’s disappointing decision. Particularly infuriating was the moment when it became apparent that the committee were ready to vote five to two in favour of saving the building and so were removed from council chamber to receive private “legal advice”, only to return and vote for demolition. I’m afraid I did not make a note of the name of the council’s legal advisor, but I am sure he acted in good faith and within his remit. What disappoints me is the lack courage on the part of those councillors who changed their vote, unwilling to support what they know to be the will of the people who put them into office.

Another detail I did not make exact notes of was the number of letters the committee had received on the issue. I remember it being somewhere in the region of 2000 opposing demolition, and a figure in support of the proposal that was so small it could be counted on the fingers of one hand. A hand with at least two fingers cut off.

The gratuitous amputation of irreplaceable assets seems to have been a recurring misfortune for Bradford. The former cinema is the last truly iconic building in the city centre. It’s imposing frontage, distinctive domes and red brick construction set it apart from it’s surroundings such that it is not just a beautiful building in it’s own right, but actually symbolic of the heart of the city. In UNESCO’s only City of Film, and opposite the National Media Museum, it seems absurd that a council should entertain a plan to demolish the last remaining 1930s super-cinema. Properly maintained, this building should be an asset to the city: a valuable cultural centre, and a landmark of Bradford’s cinematic history. This is not some building that deserves to be saved because of an adverse affect on the neighbouring Alhambra theatre. This is the only building left which can symbolise Bradford in the same way Big Ben does London, or the Eiffel Tower Paris.

Under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 the local planning authority is required to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the conservation area into which the former Odeon building falls. One need only look at a map of the conservation area to see that it was clearly designated specifically to include this building, jutting out as it does from the Thornton Road/Prince’s Way junction. On conservation areas, Planning Policy Guidance 15: Planning and the Historic Environment states that the general presumption should be in favour of retaining buildings which make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of a conservation area. It was evident from attending the meeting on 23rd September that no presumption in favour was shown. Instead councillors allowed themselves to be dictated to, accepting a plan that neither preserves the character or appearance of the area, nor can be said to enhance it.

As a fig-leaf to cover their shame, the Regulatory and Appeals Committee wore a single letter from English Heritage, as though this were some objective measure of the building’s value overriding the views of 2000 local people. In truth, of course, the very idea that such value could be measured objectively is clearly a nonsense, and this is a call which PPG15 and the 1990 act empower the local authority to make. The Regulatory and Appeals Committee have clearly shrugged off this duty.

Bearing in mind the above, I would ask that Bradford Council do three things:

  1. Serve Yorkshire Forward and Langtree Artisan with a building preservation notice, preventing them from demolishing the former cinema or altering it in such a way as to affect its character.
  2. Hold a vote of no confidence in the Regulatory and Appeals Committee, removing them from office at the earliest opportunity.
  3. Hold a fully-open meeting of the whole council, at which the two applications approved on September 23rd be reconsidered, taking proper account of public opinion, the building as an iconic symbol for the city, and it’s historical importance in the UNESCO City of Film.

I am aware that various people within the city have presented compelling evidence for the physical health of the building as being fit for use, and I would also ask that such evidence be given it’s due weight in any future debate on the issue.

Update 22/11/2009: I’m glad the version of this that I actually sent to my elected representatives didn’t include the links that embellish the above version. I’ve discovered an asbestos survey that seems to provide the proof that the above linked Mr. Nobel had indeed been negligent. I’ve started a thread on the Save the Odeon Facebook discussion board in the hope that someone can provide futher information.

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