Plans for 30 homes on the site of the old Filwood Broadway cinema in Knowle West have been granted permission amid anger from residents. Bristol city councillors approved the regeneration despite claims that the local authority has “lied, cheated, conspired to pull this building down”.
Development control committee members said it was “highly regrettable” that the building would be demolished, under previous consent in 2019, and that the protests about its loss came much too late, despite hearing that efforts had been made to have it protected but these were unsuccessful. The former 1930s art deco cinema was sold in the 1980s and became a bingo hall before finally closing to the public in 1994.
Once it is demolished, the council will replace it with a crescent of 17 flats and 13 houses, all of which are classed as affordable, and ground-floor commercial space for retail or community use. Several three- and four-storey buildings will be created fronting onto Filwood Broadway.
Read more: Council reveals housing plans for old Filwood Broadway cinema in Knowle West
Nick Haskins, of Knowle West Residents Voice group, whose grandfather built the cinema, told the meeting on Wednesday, January 18, that the old picturehouse was “the beating heart” of the community and was visited in its heyday by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, while boxer Dixie Brown had many fights there. He said: “Bristol City Council has lied, cheated, conspired to pull this building down.”
Mr Haskins said he had conducted a local survey and found 2,000 people who wanted to save the building and use it for community use and that there was nothing for children to do in the area. The plans received eight objections, including from Re:work, a Filwood Broadway charity and social enterprise that helps young people learn new skills, which raised concerns about the loss of rear access to existing properties.
But officers told the committee that the scheme was considered acceptable and that the cinema could be demolished regardless of their decision because of the 2019 permission. Labour Cllr Fabian Breckels said: “It’s a very nice scheme – the images of what the housing will look like are really impressive.
“It’s highly regrettable that the cinema building is going to be lost but if we said we’re not going to support this because we don’t want to lose the cinema building, it could still be demolished anyway and we’d just have an even bigger hole in the ground. It’s unfortunate that there are protests about losing the cinema now, nearly 30 years after it closed.
“Cinemas can be restored and rescued after a long period of dereliction but 30 years of deterioration is an awful lot and it’s just a shame that people in the community didn’t try to get the building kept and repurposed in the mid-90s when it was vacant. What matters is the correct use of the flexible space and the other retail space so it’s stuff that local residents actually want.
“If a group were to come forward even at this 11th hour with a plan to repurpose that building, I would like to think that we would be open to it. But all we can decide today is what is in front of us right now.”
Committee chair Green Cllr Ani Stafford-Townsend said: “It is very unfortunate that we are not able to consider the demolition of the cinema because it hasn’t been listed and it wasn’t granted community asset status. I would like to think this is the last time we lost a building of significance like this to Bristol, and I hope going forward Bristol City Council is much more proactive in supporting communities in saving these assets for the community.”
Labour group leader Cllr Steve Pearce said the new residents would make local shops and services more viable. Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Brown said: “I have some reservations about the impact on some of the units on Filwood Broadway.
“However, there is a lot to recommend this scheme – it’s a good-looking scheme, it makes use of a piece of land that’s otherwise quite inefficiently used.” Members voted 6-0 to grant consent, with Green Cllr Lorraine Francis abstaining because of concerns that no shadowing survey had been carried out for adjacent gardens.
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