THE Competition Commission has refused to reconsider its decision to force Cineworld to sell off one of its cinemas in Aberdeen, with the Belmont arthouse cinema set to be disposed.
Earlier this month Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, appealed to the competitions watchdog to think again about its controversial ruling which led to Cineworld announcing it would “reluctantly” sell its Picturehouse “art house” cinema in Aberdeen, known as The Belmont.
The Commission said the sale was needed to restore competition and protect customers’ interests, following the company’s takeover of the Picturehouse chain.
‘No way to reopen consideration’
Alasdair Smith, the Deputy Chairman of the Competition Commission, has now told Mr Stewart there is no provision in the statutory framework to enable the Commission to reopen its consideration of the merger.
He states in letter to Mr Stewart: “We understand well that the Belmont is not a ‘run-of-the-mill’ cinema and that it currently receives a subsidy from Aberdeen Council. However, Cineworld already owned two out of the four cinemas in Aberdeen and even though the Belmont is different in scale, style and - to some extent - programming from the two Cineworld multiplexes, there is competition between all cinemas.
“The merger gave Cineworld control of three out of the four cinemas in Aberdeen. We considered that this was likely to give rise to a significant lessening of competition, with adverse effects on cinema customers.”
Mr Smith adds: “We understand that our decision creates uncertainty and anxiety about the future of the Belmont. Our interest is in strengthening competition and obviously the closure of the Belmont would be unwelcome to us as well as to the people of Aberdeen. We are confident that alternative ownership and management arrangements can be made to secure the future of the Belmont while maintaining healthy competition between cinemas in Aberdeen.”
Mr Stewart said: “It is disappointing that the Competition Commission have ruled out reconsideration of their decision to force the sale of the Belmont Cinema, despite recognising that it is significantly different from the other cinema’s in the city.
“I am still very much opposed to this enforced sale and do not think that it is in the best interests of customers, putting at risk as it does the one venue offering something different from the mainstream.”
He added: “My hope now is that a buyer will be found and that they will commit to upholding the Belmont’s proud reputation as Aberdeen’s only art house cinema.”