The Old Odeon Cinema on Pilgrim Street in Newcastle upon Tyne has stood empty and unloved by its’ owners, The Reuben Brothers / Motcomb Estates (billionaire property tycoons who topped the Sunday Times Rich List 2016) since closing to the public in 2002.
Despite long-running campaigns by various groups in the city to restore the former 1930s Paramount Cinema to its’ former glory or at least clean up the facade, and recent promises by Newcastle City Council that they would enter consultation with local businesses and members of the public which don’t appear to have happened, the owners submitted an ‘Application to Demolish a Building’ to Newcastle City Council on 10th October with demolition ‘due to begin on 1st November’.
This application has been signed by GVA Grimley Ltd (the largest independent commercial property agency in the UK) on behalf of Taras Properties Ltd who own the majority of the 10 acre site around East Pilgrim Street, including the fantastic former police and fire station and apparently have plans to turn this into a mixture of retail and/or student accommodation (enough already)!
Although the Old Odeon Cinema is a privately-owned building, many people in the city (including me) are upset and saddened at the thought that a once-listed building and possibly the only remaining Paramount Cinema in the UK will be demolished to ground level and replaced with a ‘retail centre’ that will no doubt be well-constructed but is unwanted by the local business and creative sector community and out of character for that part of the city.
The Site Notice says people have until Monday 31st October to ‘make any comments in writing’ and so 61 comments (mostly objections) have been left on the Newcastle City Council website at:
Another 1,500+ people have so far signed the ‘Save the Odeon Cinema (Newcastle upon Tyne) at:
There is also a ‘Save Old Odeon Newcastle’ Facebook Group (with 575 members) at:
Why do they care?
Old buildings have memories and evoke strong feelings of nostalgia which people want to protect. (From a personal perspective, the Old Odeon Cinema is where I went to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom). Although I love the idea of restoring the old cinema to its’ former glory, the main objection I and everyone else has is the idea of complete demolition so at the very least, I would like The Reuben Brothers / Motcomb Estates / Taras Properties / GVA Bilfinger to save the front of the building which would look fantastic once cleaned up and show that they are being sensitive to the wishes of the local community.
(The reasons for this are eloquently outlined by John Matthews, Chairman of the ‘Northumberland and Newcastle Society’ in this article published in The Chronicle / Journal on Tuesday 25th October http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/can-campaigners-newcastles-historic-odeon-12077193).
A missed opportunity?
Furthermore, people are concerned that demolishing a building of such historical and cultural importance (in addition to being a cinema, iconic bands and artists like The Who and Bob Dylan once played there) would be a huge mistake and missed opportunity for the owners.
Firstly, there are lots of empty retail units in Newcastle and Fenwick (the major department store on Northumberland Street) ‘painted a gloomy picture for the future of the UK retail sector’ in a recent Chronicle / Journal article at http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/newcastles-fenwick-paints-gloomy-picture-12037638 which suggests there simply isn’t enough money to go around to support more shops.
Secondly, the area immediately surrounding the Old Odeon Cinema has a thriving creative / cultural / digital sector which has grown organically in recent years and which I believe should be supported and nurtured with the cinema ideally developed as some kind of creative and cultural hub like The Melkweg in Amsterdam (https://www.melkweg.nl/en/info/about-melkweg/) which could be used for live music performances, art exhibitions, digital music, film and TV production studios too.
You can see a Google Map I’ve created of creative / cultural / digital organisations and venues in the immediate vicinity (including the award-winning Campus North co-working and event space where I am based) at https://drive.google.com/open?id=18wCzPxKtuiO0Tris–Dq3XC5Ckc&usp=sharing which clearly shows that this part of Newcastle already has a cultural cluster which the Old Odeon Cinema could be the focal point for.
Ultimately, this is a case of some uber-rich property developers who have shown little interest in supporting or developing Newcastle city centre over the years, seemingly running the area down deliberately, ignoring the wishes of those who live and work in the city and then demolishing a much-loved and iconic building to replace it with a new building that will suck money out of local people’s pockets and make the owners even richer. Property prices and rents will then rise, forcing the local independent businesses out and the cash-strapped council apparently has little power or appetite to stop this from happening.
Britain needs less places to consume things and more places to create them so if The Reuben Brothers are listening, it’s not too late to change your mind…