Friday, 1 August 2014

An update on the Odeon

There is currently a flurry of correspondence about the Odeon. This is a detailed post - in order to put the main relevant facts in a readily accessible form - followed by a few comments from myself. 

In short, clearing of the site at the Buccleuch Street side is underway and the demolition of the 'flytower' part of the Odeon at the Buccleuch Street side is due to begin. The vacant land will then be developed with student flats.

This was all approved at a planning meeting on 17th April 2013 as part of an 'enabling' arrangement to get the main part of Odeon back into use.  At that time Gerry Boyle (brother of Susan Boyle) had negotiated a 10 year lease with Duddingston House Properties, the building's owners - with a substantial free rent period.  Thus it was anticipated that the capital generated from the building project at the Buccleuch Street side would 'enable' the return of the main auditorium into use by Gerry Boyle's 'Instant World' project.  The April 2013 report put it thus:
"The specific circumstances of this case are different to other projects where enabling development is used to fund an identified conservation deficit normally involving the expensive restoration of depleted heritage assets. The proposal in this case is based on the economic interdependence of two parts of a mixed development where the new build elements will release the funds necessary to subsidise an otherwise uneconomic occupation of the heritage asset." page 10 of 25
This was written into the planning permission in the form of a condition as follows:
No works or development hereby authorised (including for the avoidance of doubt demolition of the existing former cinema flytower) shall take place until the planning authority has received satisfactory evidence to confirm that the proposed occupation of the remainder of the former Odeon cinema building, 7 Clerk Street, Edinburgh for the purposes of live entertainment and as a cinema within Class11 of the Town and Country Planning uses (Scotland) Order 1997 together with ancillary bar, restaurant and coffee shop premises (as approved under the terms of the certificate of lawful use ref: 12/04368/CLP issued by the planning authority on 14 January 2013) has commenced and contracts let for the associated enabling and internal fit out works. 
The saga continues with Instant World, after substantial delays, opening for business on Friday 1st November 2013.  It lasted a few days and I understand there were a number of creditors from the failed project.

However, officials from the Planning Department have interpreted the brief opening as satisfying the condition required for the student flats to go ahead.  That seems to me to be a moot decision. If it is allowed to stand the building of the flats need not and will not contribute to the objective of bringing the main building back into use.  The Gerry Boyle project satisfied the legal requirement for the flats but delivers nothing for the use of the main premises.

I have meetings next week to scrutinise that.  Certainly if the legal interpretation of planning officials is correct, it does not meet the intention of the Planning Committee in setting out the agreement in April 2013.

Stepping back, however, the question of what to do with the Odeon has been a running sore for over a decade now.  It has been a dead spot within the Southside which does the area and local residents no good.  An empty building, especially such a large one as this, benefits no one.  Meanwhile, the fabric deteriorates with every passing year.

The valiant aspirations to return the building to its former use and glory have been noble and thus far hopelessly unrealistic.  Certainly, the main building has been preserved - though it continues to deteriorate -  but the prospect of being brought back into its original (or similar) use has receded as the years have passed.

The current pronounced uptick in the economy might provide an economic environment in which dreams could be realised.  I think things are too far gone and, unless a philanthropist with considerable capital comes forward, the attempts to preserve the building will have to face reality.

In all this we have not been helped by the Scottish Government planning policy or the listing function of Historic Scotland.  It is a form of 'listing blight' on communities. 

My own view is that the wholly appropriate process for preserving our heritage has been allowed to get out of hand.  We have around 25% too many listed buildings - drawing away focus and energy from those parts of our heritage which we must preserve.  Planning and heritage policy is about getting a balance across a range of objectives. 

I want a Southside which is vibrant not delapidated. 


Anonymous said...

"A philanthropist with considerable capital?" Where might we find a philanthropist with considerable capital??--------Hmmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

A welcoming comprehensive account here-with many thanks on this update.

F Street said...

Could you please clarify what you mean by 'around 25% too many listed buildings'?

Is this in the UK as a whole, in Edinburgh as a whole, in the area of the former Odeon cinema, in the World Heritage area...?

What buildings or category of building would you propose to remove listed status from? What buildings do you consider to be affected by 'listing blight'?

Cameron Rose said...

F Street
Your four questions - in order.
1. It is not clear what you wish clarified.
2. None of these. Scotland. The context is HS.
3. That was a statement. I didn't propose a solution.
4. This was a short post. The one from the context is the Odeon.

What is your view?

F Street said...

I was at the RHS meeting on Monday night and was completely unacquainted with your 25% comments until then. I'm now trying to work out if the above is an accurate representation of YOUR views, as I noted that you disputed that at the meeting.

My own view is that listed building status doesn't seem to go nearly far enough in protecting buildings of architectural importance, in any case in Edinburgh.

But I don't feel that I've understood your own view, as I don't know what other 24.999% of listed buildings are felt to be causing a problem. It does sound horrendous though, I have to say.

Cameron Rose said...

In context, the above post is an accurate reflection of what I think. David Black suggested at the AHSS meeting that I had said that there are 25% too many listed buildings in the World Heritage Site. Certainly not. My comment was a much more general one related to the listings by HS in general. I hope you will understand that I treasure the historic built environment - particularly of the Old and New Towns which form part of the WH site.

I welcome listing but think we have gone overboard. Listing brings protection but it also has its disadvantages. Sometimes it prevents (through cost or hassles to owners) the improvement/maintenance of buildings and especially the functional use of valuable historic buildings. Some need to be retained as they are - as historic buildings - but most can and should have a functional use as well. For some buildings the listing acts as a blight to the building as nothing happens for years - as has happened with the Odeon in Clerk Street. I know there are other factors operating around what I have called 'listing blight' - but that is the nature of life - it is complex with multiple factors coming together to decide on say, a planning application, or the future of a building.

Your second para in your last comment takes me back to the point in the original post: listing too many buildings draws away focus and energy from those parts of our heritage we must preserve.

Best wishes,

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