SIR, — Readers will be aware (Herts Advertiser, April 17) that Wattsdown Developments, the owners of the Odeon site in London Road, St Albans, have put in their latest planning application to demolish the cinema and replace it with a block of flats. What
SIR, - Readers will be aware (Herts Advertiser, April 17) that Wattsdown Developments, the owners of the Odeon site in London Road, St Albans, have put in their latest planning application to demolish the cinema and replace it with a block of flats. What a shame.
The Odeon, as well as being one of the few examples in the city of Art Deco architecture, has the sort of historical credentials that any place less well-endowed with heritage treasures than St Albans would be celebrating as a major tourist attraction. The site's links with Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, the St Albans-based early 20th-century cinematic pioneer, would make it a magnet for film buffs and students of cinema from all over the world.
And coming closer to home, consider what a wealth of social history is bound up in this pivotal place of entertainment. Previous street campaigns have thrown up any number of stories and fond memories, and urgent pleas that this well-loved building should not be destroyed. James Hannaway of the Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted, has said that if the opportunity arose he could be prepared to buy the Odeon and bring it back to its former glory.
So what can we do? An application for demolition and redevelopment can only be refused if there are valid planning reasons for doing so - and nostalgia is scarcely a planning point. However, what does count is that the Odeon is a locally-listed building in a Conservation Area and therefore may only be replaced by a building of similar architectural worth. Might we not argue that a distinctive and historic edifice, albeit in need of restoration, wins hands down over yet another anonymous block of flats, however well designed? The district council have said they want an iconic building on this gateway site: is it not already staring them in the face?
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The trouble is we are in the hands of the District Plan Review, the near-obsolete planning policy document of 1994. Let's hope that the replacement Local Development Framework, now coming to fruition with aching slowness, will recognise that if St Albans is not to lose all sense of identity, local distinctiveness must be an essential planning matter.
Let's hope too that sustainability is allowed to play its official part. How green is it to demolish a structure as solidly built as this one? And spare a thought for the residents of Paxton Road and Lower Paxton Road, as they suffer the increased traffic that 23 new parking spaces will create - a valid planning point!
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Wattsdown's plans, 5/08/0694/695CA, can be viewed on the council's website at www.stalbans.gov.uk/living/planning/search-plans.php, or given that the reproduction is poor, it would be better to see them at the council offices. Letters of objection, quoting the reference numbers above, should be sent to The Head of Planning & Building Control, Council Offices, Civic Centre, St Peter's Street, St Albans AL1 3JE, or e-mailed, giving full name and address, to email@example.com The official closing date was yesterday (Wednesday) but letters will still be accepted after this time.
Wattsdown have been trying to build flats on the Odeon site for years. With the recession biting, property stagnating and the buy-to-let brigade in retreat, perhaps they have missed the boat. If permission is granted, will the flats be built to a lower specification? Will they be built and remain empty? Will they ever be built at all? Not exactly planning points according to our 1994 Book of Rules, but matters that must be considered before a decision on this historic site is taken.
Secretary, St Albans Civic Society