Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Odeon

In over 2,000 posts on this blog since its inception exactly 4 years ago, the Odeon has been in 19 of them.  You can review the back story as reported at this blog here.

There is some way to go, though, before this issue of this unoccupied building is resolved.   The latest contribution is a campaign and petition initiated by the Southside Community Council.  It is reported in the Evening News here and you can go to the campaign website where there is some excellent information.

The petition can be found on here.  It calls for the compulsory purchase of the cinema.  For my part, I think a public injection of money is that last route we should go down.   The Odeon, an unoccupied building in the local landscape and community for around nine years, desperately needs an injection of vision and ideas from someone with the cash to realise those ideas.  

The previous intervention of the Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government has had the effect of what can best be called 'heritage blight' on the local community.   The community urgently needs this building or site to be a living venue providing life, activity and employment in the area.

But I am happy to provide the links above if you disagree with me!


16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cameron has jumped to the conclusion that public money is at stake if the Odeon is to be saved. But that needn't be the case; if the Council has to resort to a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order), why couldn't it be done back-to-back with a sale to a new owner, and with the new owner bearing the cost? Of course one answer is that the cost could be prohibitive, but that won't be known unless the possibility is investigated. Better still, why doesn't Duddingston House Properties just sell the Odeon to one of the organisations with bids on the table for it right now? DHP has always argued that the building is uneconomic unless significant parts of it (the most significant parts) are demolished. But that's never been true, and it isn't true now, as the current interest in purchasing the building proves. DHP's only problem is that no-one will pay the inflated price they want for it. But whether they get 50p for the Odeon, or £5m is irrelevant; what matters is that the building has an economically viable future without demolition. One last mystery; why does Cameron insist that the empty Odeon, and the resulting blight in that section of Clerk Street, is the fault of the planning system and, in particular, Historic Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council? DHP could have sold this building years ago, and it could have been back in productive use years ago. Only DHP has prevented that and (so far anyway) both the Council and Historic Scotland have done the jobs allocated to them, and supremely well. It seems that Cameron continues to have his eyes wide shut.

Cameron Rose said...

Anonymous,
1. You will have to explain what you mean by 'back to back'! My point is the point that you note - the cost is likely to be prohibitive.
2. Anonymous wrote: "DHP has always argued that the building is uneconomic unless significant parts of it (the most significant parts) are demolished. But that's never been true, and it isn't true now, as the current interest in purchasing the building proves". I'm afraid that is simply your opinion. "Interest" does not necessarily translate into a sale. Nor has it done so yet. The process DHP are not going through is to test what HS and the SG ruled had not been satisfactorily tested last time.
3. Anonymous wrote: "But whether they get 50p for the Odeon, or £5m is irrelevant; what matters is that the building has an economically viable future without demolition." The purchase price is part of the economic viability of the building's future. Your argument, taken to its logical conclusion, is that, as long as I maintain the roof, fix the drains and live in my house, I should never have had to pay the seller for it.
4. I suspect a key difference between your position and mine is the question of property rights. If a person owns a property, that ownership brings rights to use/dispose of that property. Of course, they are not unfettered. (That is why, quite properly, we have conservation and planning laws.)
5. Your 'last mystery'. No mystery here. (BTW I was not criticising Edinburgh Council. Rather it was the system, and in particular the HS and SG role in it.) The system is over burdensome and does not strike a suitable balance between conservation and creating living communities. Both are important. I see my job as a councillor to look to the future, and not just preserve the past, important though it may be. There are often tensions between the two.
6. The operation of the planning laws to which we have been referring, in many cases, casts a long shadow over development and discourages entrepreneurs from taking the bother to invest. That is a key reason why we do not have the adventurous, top quality buildings that Edinburgh could have and leave as a legacy for generations to come. Has this generation nothing to say architecturally to the next generation? We need to celebrate and treasure the heritage we have been left. That is quite different from putting it in formaldehyde and allowing a living tension with past current and future needs.
7. However, back to your comment. ". . . the Council . . . (has) done the jobs allocated.. ." The council decided to allow the earlier DHP redevelopment!
8. Anonymous wrote: "DHP could have sold. . . ". Your whole position seems to be based on DHP not doing what you wanted them to. Refer to 4 above. I understand the HS, Council, SG,DHP role and that of aspirant purchasers. And with all these playing their roles, the system has left us with an unsatisfactory result for 9 years. (For reasons I have outlined, I think the law needs changed.) Where do you fit in, Anonymous?

Thanks for engaging.

Cameron Rose said...

Anonymous,
I've puzzled over you 'back to back' comment relating to the CPO. The only rationale for your comment which makes sense that I can come up with is as a means of driving down the price for a potential purchaser. Please assure me that I'm just being foolish and misunderstanding your intention!

Chris said...

I think the point was meant to be that the Council could CPO the building and then sell it without exhibiting DHP's suspicious reluctance to do anything other than let the building rot unused.

Cameron Rose said...

Thanks Chris.

The suggestion seems, then, to be for the Council to intervene, embark on a new round of sale, and add the additional costs to the new purchaser.

I understand there is considerable suspicion about the the intentions and actions of DHP. I have looked at many of the (extensive) background papers and to conclude the 'suspicions' you mention are a matter for debate - ultimately a matter of judgement - and there will legitimately be different judgements. That is why I have focussed on the process - which has not helped.

Not Anonymous said...

Cameron said

"The operation of the planning laws to which we have been referring, in many cases, casts a long shadow over development and discourages entrepreneurs from taking the bother to invest. That is a key reason why we do not have the adventurous, top quality buildings that Edinburgh could have and leave as a legacy for generations to come. Has this generation nothing to say architecturally to the next generation? We need to celebrate and treasure the heritage we have been left. That is quite different from putting it in formaldehyde and allowing a living tension with past current and future needs."

The reason we don't have confident new architecture in the city isn't because of the conservation planning but because the city doesn't demand it. Look at the development in areas that aren't affected by consevation designations and we witness a whole lot of crap. The extensive development of Western Harbour is one fine example of trash. I've witnessed the planning committee agree that they don't really think much of the design of a project but shrug their shoulders and vote it through. Conservation bodies may argue to keep things of value (such as the Odeon's auditorium) but you and your fellow Councillors are the gatekeepers who should be asking for better design elsewhere. When were you last quoted asking for better besign Cameron?

The best recent pieces of architecture are both within the World Heritage Site - The Parliament and Museum extension both bold and dynamic.

The Dick Vet Tower is by a respected architect and a bold bit of '60s design that says a lot about that generation. It merits celebration, but are you going to make sure it's an important part of the development brief or accept its potential demolition?

Cameron Rose said...

Not Anonymous said:
"The reason we don't have confident new architecture in the city isn't because of the conservation planning but because the city doesn't demand it."

Absolutely not. This whole line of argument ignores the balance between the quality we aspire to and getting things done (houses built, new buildings etc). The city makes huge demands of investors - planning gain, standards and bureaucratic hoops to jump through - and the reality is that many investors just do not consider it worth the candle. Especially in times of downturn. We need to set a framework of standards, encourage innovation and avoid detailed meddling or, as far as possible, get out of the way.

I agree with you about the Museum extension. The Scottish Parliament gets divided reviews but in terms of functional design is a disaster. And the process of how it happened is instructive.

Dick Vet Tower ". . . merits celebration". Let's just say I disagree. A lot.

susan said...

Dick Vet tower? Hideous building, please knock it down! It 'says a lot about that generation' - indeed it does, but that certainly doesn't make it worth saving. Do we have to preserve every dreadful mistake to exemplify the period?

Anonymous said...

I think the crux of this argument is how we value and preserve important buildings of the past; and the role of public authorities within this process.
Let's not forget that prior to the 1960s-70s there was barely any conservation movement to speak of in Scotland and Victorian buildings wich we love today were seen as being suitable candidates for demolition (the Victorians themselves were arguably pretty trigger happy about getting rid of buildings that stood in the way of their own public buildings and railways). So in the 1960s Princes Street was regarded as a hideous mix of Georgian with Victorian later interventions, while Vicorian tenements were demiolished throughout Edinburgh adn Glasgow. Instead, there did indeed exist an bold and optimistic vision of the future backed up by advances in building techniques - in fact the listed? Dick Vet buidling is probably an example of this, designed by a respected Edinburgh architect, and arguably and an anchoring counter point at the east end of the meadows to Barclay Church at Tollcross (also a radical/shocking building in its day).
Nobody is arguing that Edinburgh University should have been allowed to flatten most of the southside or that it would be better to have George Square in its original form; but at the same time this does not meant that the Basil Spence library and DHT are not superb buildings.
Ultimately, tastes change - we have lost nearly all of our original art deco cinema buildings because they went out of fashion; how long will it take before another genration realises it wants this back rather than go to the hideous Fountain park; meanwhile, the Hippodrome in Bo'ness appears to be flourishing (I am guessing with some public money in supportwhich I do not see as always a bad thing), while the UCI and Fort Kinnaird has gone!
At the same time I am sure 50 years or less from now we will be demolishing many of the decisions made by recent planning committees - including most of what was built along Granton- newhaven waterfront - one of the biggest disgraces of the last 10-15 years.

Cameron Rose said...

Anonymous said: "I think the crux of this argument is how we value and preserve important buildings of the past; and the role of public authorities within this process."

NO. The crux of this argument is how we balance the preservation of important buildings with creating living, functional and inspiring environments for people - within the constraints of our resources.

". . . this does not meant that the Basil Spence library and DHT are not superb buildings."

Not my view!

Thanks for engaging.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rose said:

"The crux of this argument is how we balance the preservation of important buildings with creating living, functional and inspiring environments for people - within the constraints of our resources."

Of course it is. The city - all cities - are dynamic entities, not museums to be preserved, to the detriment of forward-thinking development.

However, Mr. Rose, you seem to have totally missed the point made by persons commenting on this blog, the groups wishing to save the Odeon and the nearly 1500 people who have already signed the petition to save it.

This is not a broad debate on the future of cities and the diversity of our built environment- far from it. Please do not seek to dilute the debate by skirting around the core issue.

This is about an instance of ONE, ARCHITECTURALLY SIGNIFICANT LISTED BUILDING and its proven potential as a commercially viable venue in its current form. This is about a developer's unscrupulous actions, in refusing to maintain the building appropriately and blocking the path of potential buyers.

Are you aware that much of the building was inaccessible to viewing potential buyers? That the agents acting on behalf of the vendors had no idea when power would be restored and the building could be viewed in anything other than torch light? That at least six separate points of access to vandals, left open by DHP despite numerous complaints, and many, many more for vermin have been catalogued in the past three years? That during the marketing period - before the deadline for offers had expired and whilst potential buyers were trying to gain access to the building - DHP had already confirmed in writing in two instances their intention to push their hotel plan through?This entrie fiasco represents the arrogance of developers with regard to the future of this building and the wishes of the public.

Furthermore, Mr. Rose, how is it that you have come to the conclusion that a restoration of the building may not be conducive to good development? Perhaps you might take the time to see some of the architecturally cutting edge restorations that have been completed across the UK of late, fusing new technologies and styles with the most important historical structures.

"Restoration" does not need to be static or preservational - it can be engaging and exciting - and this arts hotel is NOT the only option for this building.

Cameron Rose said...

Anonymous wrote: "This is about an instance of ONE, ARCHITECTURALLY SIGNIFICANT LISTED BUILDING and its proven potential as a commercially viable venue in its current form."

In this sentence you evidence a focus on one perspective rather than the balance I argue for and which you quote the top of your comment. You cannot take the building, its architecture and its listing as the core issue in isolation from its community value.

As to "proven potential. . . ", that issue has been considered at length in the planning process so far. The certainty you express was not the conclusion in the process or of many of those involved at that time.

I am bewildered by your statement: "Furthermore, Mr. Rose, how is it that you have come to the conclusion that a restoration of the building may not be conducive to good development?" I would be delighted to see the building restored. The question to be addressed is whether it is practical and possible. That will possibly be again addressed in due course.

And BTW, the marketing issues that you raise may be subject to planning scrutiny in the future so I don't consider it appropriate to go there. I note what you say.

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "I think the crux of this argument is how we value and preserve important buildings of the past; and the role of public authorities within this process."

NO. The crux of this argument is how we balance the preservation of important buildings with creating living, functional and inspiring environments for people - within the constraints of our resources.

Although I used the possibly misleading "buildings" plural form above, my point here relates to one specific example of a significant cinema building; hence the reason why I quote the Bo'ness examples as a comparator; within the context of my wider argument about how buildings go in and our our of fashion.

Re. listing of post-war buildings you would have done well to attend the ECA Conservation Masterclass on this theme: Elain Harwood Senior Architectural Investigator, English Heritage
Why is Post-War Architecture Special?
A look at what we are preserving and why - and at the controversies that still beset postwar conservation in England, over 20 years after the
first post-1945 buildings were listed. or re post-1945 Scottish buildings read Historic Scotland's http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/scotlandbuildingthefuture.pdf

Cameron Rose said...

Whether you are speaking of one specific building or many, my point is one of principle ". . . creating living, functional and inspiring environments for people - within the constraints of our resources." That is the balance.

BillyBobThortons said...

You know what I don't get about all this? Is how the legality and formality of the whole issue has been totally overlooked (though I too agree that demolition for a hotel is an extremely short-sighted approcach to the future of this site).

Planning is a democratic process, and any person or persons not following the rules is acting unlawfully. Whatever your thoughts on planning, it is by nature designed to prevent the unjust weilding of power and influence to one's own taste / gain.

Key issues here:

- the many objections - 6500 on one petition, over 3000 at last count on another - to these plans;

- the lack of TRUE independent valuation - not organised by the vendor- based not on hypothetical usable space (as the £2,93m was) but an actual on-site inspection which takes in to account the condition of the building and current marketing conditions;

- the negelect and subsequent damage caused to the building, which is listed therefore required to be maintained by the owners;

- the obstacles created and the suspicious/dishonest manner in which marketing period - the time 'on the market' which was ordered by the SE reporter - which included tactics such as not providing keys to crucial areas of the building, complete darkness for first 2 1/2 months of 3 month period owing to lack of electricity, unsecured doors and windows and an unadvertised, unclear start to marketing period and a complete lack of basic information avaibale about the building to potential buyers (it was not advertised for some weeks after the "marketing period" began)

Therefore, on the above grounds alone, before we even consider the merit of the building in question, the design quality of DHP's proposals (watch THAT space) and public opinion, planning permission MUST be denied to maintain the authority of the proceess. DHP have shown no respect to it, to the building's status, and to their role in this. Agree with the above poster - appalling arrogance.

As our elected representative, Cameron Rose should be undertaking investigations in to the allegations and suggestions made by the press, commentors on this site and others, and by the potential viewing buyers of the building which, if proved to be true (and there are claims of substantial proof) undermine the democratic process of which he is a keen part. Sorry, but to sit back and not comment is not acceptable.

Cameron Rose said...

BillyBobThortons

Thank you for your comments.

This is a blog which I provide, mainly for local news and comment. Occasionally (though not very often)I give my opinions.

Many of the commenters are anonymous (and I don't know who you are or if you are a constituent). Such anonymous comments may be useful information, but are hardly strong grounds for action, especially when there is a campaign under way and there are differing viewpoints to be represented. Some of the issues you address appear relevant and some of them appear to be issues which will be tested in the planning process to which you refer.

Commenters are welcome to contact me direct.