Historic cinema may become Wetherspoon 'superpub' despite objections

PUB giant JD Wetherspoon has confirmed an interest in redeveloping the historic former Odeon building in Edinburgh city centre - despite a high-profile campaign to retain the building as a cinema.

The art deco landmark in the capital's south side would become one of the company's biggest bar-restaurant complexes in Scotland under proposals drawn up over the last few months.

The firm, which recently announced a huge expansion drive across Scotland, has offered a long lease on the building, the fate of which has been embroiled in lengthy planning wrangles since it was closed as a cinema.

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The building has been lying largely empty for the last eight years, after the owner failed to win planning approval for a number of different schemes.

But Wetherspoon's plans are expected to set the company on a collision course with campaigners who want to see the building, on South Clerk Street, reopened as an arts venue.

Last month three different bids to buy the development were rejected as they did not meet the 3 million valuation demanded by Duddingston House Properties.

Wetherspoon is only interested in a long-term lease as the company claims a full purchase and refurbishment is unviable . It would use the art deco frontage and "crush bar" foyer, but not the historic auditorium.

The firm is thought to have paid about 2m for the premises when it was still operating as a cinema in March 2003, but the structure has deteriorated since then due to water leaking into the B-listed building.

Plans for a live music venue and nightclub, and a separate scheme for student flats and a bar-restaurant on the site, floundered due to protests from community groups and heritage watchdogs.

Duddingston was asking for about 3.5m when the site was initially put on the market in 2006, before the firm then decided to pursue plans for an "arts hotel" on the site.

However, it has faced fierce opposition as the scheme involves the demolition of the original auditorium, rated as one of the best in Britain by historians. Originally known as the New Victoria, the cinema dates back to 1930.

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Duddingston put the building back on the market last year after the "arts hotel" concept was thrown out by the Scottish Government following protests from heritage bodies including Historic Scotland.

Eddie Gershon, spokesman for Wetherspoon, said: "We are fully aware of the site and have expressed an interest in it with the landlord.

"However, the overall financial cost of securing the site and developing it is not viable. We will continue to monitor the site."Sarah Colquhoun, director of the New Victoria Trust, one of the rival bidders for the building, said: "The most important thing is to bring the building back into use again without damaging the historic auditorium. We believe that the valuation placed on the building is just too high."

Duddingston declined to comment yesterday.