Dramatic twist as Odeon hit by 'lack of consent' claims

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THE row over the future of Edinburgh's historic Odeon cinema took a new twist today after the council said the developer did not having planning permission for its controversial proposals after all.

Councillors decided two- and-a-half years ago they were minded to grant consent to Duddingston House Properties, which wants to partially demolish the building in Clerk Street, Newington, and build a hotel on the site, but the permission was subject to a legal agreement which involved the company paying around 20,000 towards transport infrastructure in the city.

Opponents of the scheme have now been told by city planning chiefs that the legal agreement was never progressed and therefore there is no consent in place.

DHP said when it tried to pay the money in January, the cheque was returned by the council, which said circumstances had changed.

However, the developer today insisted it had legal advice which said it did have planning consent.

The DHP plans would retain the B-listed building's art deco facade and foyer, but its celebrated original auditorium would be demolished.

A public inquiry last year put the plans on hold while a new marketing exercise was carried out to ensure all possible options for the auditorium's restoration had been explored, but DHP has always insisted it has planning permission for the scheme.

Three bidders came forward with alternative plans, including opening the building as a multi-arts venue and cinema. All the offers were turned down by DHP because they fell below the 2.9 million valuation.

The developer recently submitted a fresh application for listed building consent, which would be needed in addition to planning consent if it is to go ahead with its scheme.

However, in a letter to Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, the council's head of planning John Bury said: "DHP do not have planning consent. The committee was minded to grant planning permission in October 2008 but this was subject to a legal agreement which has not been progressed. The decision to grant planning permission was therefore not issued and so planning permission is not yet in place."

A council insider told the Evening News: "We are discussing how to take this forward. The planning committee has a duty to look at any new material considerations. Officials could go back to the committee and ask if it wants to uphold its original decision."

Ms Somerville said it had been widely assumed planning consent had been completed, but if that was not the case it was an opportunity for the planning committee to have a further investigate.

She said: "The developers are clearly of the firm belief they have planning consent and yet the council, who should know, says they haven't.

"If they don't have consent, the council has an opportunity to step in and save this building for the community once and for all. It's an opportunity to open this case up again and have a look at other plans being proposed. It would be a crying shame if we missed that opportunity and let this building be demolished."

Hilary McDowell, chair of Southside Community Council, welcomed the council's statement that DHP did not have consent. She said: "This opens up the possibility for the council to say 'No, we don't want this'. There is a future for this building other than being partially demolished and being turned into a hotel.

"We hope Duddingston House will say 'We're not going to get planning permission, let's allow someone else to run with this' and sell it to the best bidder."

However, a spokesman for DHP said: "The company has taken legal advice from one of Scotland's most prominent planning lawyers. It is their view that there has been no material change in circumstances surrounding the application since the planning committee gave the application the green light in 2008. The only issue which still requires to be resolved is the granting of listed building consent."