BY all accounts an empty shop unit in Bradford is set to find temporary use as a city centre cinema; ironic, given that across the road stands an iconic piece of the city’s architecture that was built for that very purpose.
Only in Bradford, one might think, can a temporary cinema be established near to the real thing, and you might be right, but this is either an exercise in crass civic indifference that amounts to adding insult to injury – or it’s a nifty piece of subversive ‘agitprop’.
You see, Bradford recently won Unesco City of Film status, recognising its contribution the moving image and its film heritage. The establishment of a temporary cinema in a disused shop on Centenary Square, just across from City Hall, is intended to mark the official commencement of this UN honorific.
Across the way, however, on Prince’s Way, looms the former Odeon Cinema. The theatre was closed in 2000 and the building mothballed – though it has since become clear that this just a polite way of saying left to rot.
The building occupies a prime piece of real estate in the city’s West End, so understandably there is keen interest in seeing the site redeveloped, especially as work has recently started to create the ‘City Park’.
Campaigners want to see the former Odeon restored to its former glory as an arts/entertainment centre. Local businessmen John Pennington put forward a proposal to renovate the cinema and bring it back into use. Now, a businessman isn’t going to do something like that on sentiment alone – he clearly believed in the proposal as a sound business venture.
Alas, not those in whose hands the Odeon’s fate is held. They want to see it destroyed.
Regeneration ‘experts’, local councillors, and the appointed quangocrats of the then Bradford Regeneration Company, along with the building’s current owners Yorkshire Forward (another quango tasked with channelling public money towards private business), not only refused Pennington’s proposal, but tried to deny it had ever been made whenever they spoke at public meetings.
The preferred option in this quarter is to demolish the historic building and replace it with another standard-model ‘mixed use residential and retail’ development. Shops and yuppie flats, in other words, of which the city already has plenty – and is struggling to fill.
BRC has since been wound. It’s only notable success (aside from the visible decay from the Odeon’s time in limbo) is the tremendous ‘crater’ that is the Westfield retail development on the East side of the city. This was re-named ‘Wastefield’, though compared to the Odeon, this development’s limbo is relatively young at around only four and half years since the original structures here were demolished.
The former Odeon cinema is not without its friends. The Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) is a long-running campaign by ordinary residents of the city. They have tirelessly sought to oppose the council and the quangocrats that speak on behalf of the regeneration companies and consultants that are looking to profit out of the proposed regeneration of the site.
And they have no reason to care about the city’s long-term prospects. Another city, another scheme, another addition to the turnover. That’s what they do, these companies that engage in regeneration; the councillors have no such excuse.
It’s a tragic irony, then, that Bradford is the ‘City of Film’ yet its civic leaders are effectively conspiring to destroy what could otherwise be a gem in the crown of this title.
As recently as four years ago, protesters from BORG secured access to the former Odeon and found that it was still fully kitted out, complete with the projection gear. For all anyone knows, that equipment may still be in place. Now, after almost a decade abandoned, nobody would seriously suggest that the place could be used as the cinema to mark the new City of Film status, but it is tantalising to imagine what might have been.
Perhaps, when this temporary cinema opens, it can be used to raise the plight of the former Odeon – and maybe offer a glimmer of hope for the City of Film’s neglected heritage.
Now wouldn’t that be something for organisers of the City of Film’s inaugural event – to be able to say that along with BORG they shamed the council into doing the right thing.
Alas, this is Bradford council – and it long since lost any sense of shame.
To read more about the Odeon see A Tale Of Two Cities on 'A Penny's Worth Of Dread']. To read about the new cinema visit: The Telegraph & Argus. For more information on BORG and its campaign, visit the organisation’s website.