Councillors speak out at fresh flat plans for art deco former Portobello cinema

Local councillors have spoken out following fresh proposals to transform a derelict Portobello landmark into a block of flats, despite developers pledging to restore key features of its celebrated art deco façade.

The former George Cinema in Bath Street has lain vacant and surrounded by fencing for five years with city planners having twice knocked back attempts to replace it with flats.

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Flats plan for former Portobello cinema sparks protests
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Developers Buckley Building Ltd are hoping for third time lucky and have submitted a new set of proposals for 21 residential flats at the site.

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The plans would involve the demolition of the 82-year-old former cinema and bingo hall’s auditorium and entrance lobby, as well as the complete removal of internal period design elements that contributed towards the building’s C listing, granted in 1974.

In a move that appears geared towards quelling local opposition towards the project, Buckley Building have proposed to retain the façade and reinstate the art deco landmark’s 33 feet high glazed central tower, which was fully removed several years ago.

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Hundreds of campaigners rallied to voice their disapproval at Buckley’s original plans to redevelop the site in 2016, which were subsequently refused by the council 18 months later.

Planning had previously been sought by Wothesay Limited but their application to completely raze the cinema building was unanimously rejected, much to the relief of conservationists.

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A fresh proposal to redevelop the former George Cinema has been submitted to the council.

In addition to the 21 two and three bedroom apartments, there will be provision made for car parking and the developers have also pledged to landscape the building’s surrounds.

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Local councillors have spoken out against the fresh plans, with one calling on the developers to seek a new option that would spare the building from any demolition works.

Conservative Councillor Callum Laidlaw has previously been dismissive of the plan to build flats on the site, but says saving the building’s rare 1930s façade is vital.

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He said: “The George cinema is a Porty landmark and rare example of high quality art deco architecture in Edinburgh and it’s shocking how a listed building has been allowed to deteriorate to the state its in now.

The Bath Street landmark has lain derelict for a number of years.
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"I have previously been supportive of plans to redevelop the building for community leisure use but believe the priority now must be to protect as much of the historic façade as possible and prevent further deterioration.”

SNP Councillor Kate Campbell says the plan to demolish most of the former cinema goes against the wishes of the community and local councillors alike.

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She said: "I’m surprised and disappointed that the developers are persisting with this. The community want to see this building saved and all local councillors spoke against demolition when it last went to committee. Committee members agreed. And then the reporter also agreed when it went to appeal.

"Every action should be taken to save a listed building. Instead of just trying again to demolish most of this beautiful building the developers should be working on a plan to save it.”

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The plans involve the complete demolition of the former cinema and bingo hall's auditorium.

Buckley Building Ltd have been approached for comment.

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The Bath Street building first opened its doors as the County Cinema on March 30, 1939. It was designed by esteemed cinema architect T Bowhill Gibson, who was responsible for a number of other art deco delights around Edinburgh, including the Hillburn Roadhouse (latterly the Fairmile Inn) and Morningside’s Dominion Cinema.

The County originally had a large 33ft-high, glass advertising tower in the centre of the façade, which was illuminated by changing hues of neon at night.

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In 1954 the County Cinema was taken over by the George Palmer circuit and was reconstructed internally and renamed The George Cinema.

It closed in June 1974 and was turned into a bingo hall and remained so until five years ago. House builders Buckley Building Ltd purchased the site shortly afterwards.

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A message from the Editor:

A total of 21 residential flats have been earmarked for the site.
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