Historic cinema saved from bulldozers - but still faces uncertain future

The plans would see the old Colchester Odeon bulldozed

Developers say the plans would have been the best solution for the former Odeon - Credit: Google Street View

A 90-year-old former cinema in Colchester has been saved from being torn down for a block of flats and a car park - but community leaders have been warned the site could stand vacant "indefinitely".

Developer Blumarble Property Management Ltd proposed replacing the former Odeon on Crouch Street, which has been vacant for 19 years, with 55 apartments, two retail units and a 32-space basement car park, but intended to reproduce the original street-facing façade.

Objections were raised by Historic England, the Cinemas Theatre Association and the Theatres Trust on the grounds it would destroy an important surviving work of major cinema architect Cecil Masey.

Speaking in Colchester Borough Council’s planning committee meeting, councillor Gerard Oxford (The Highwoods Group, Highwoods) said he was “shocked” by the proposals.

He said: “I must admit I read the papers, looked at them, read them several times and I was a bit shocked by what I’d read.

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“That façade, it was one of the main criteria, that the façade had to be kept. The owner of the site or the applicant knew that when they purchased. 

“To my mind, whether I’m being harsh or not, I don’t see that there’s any way that they can say it now needs to come down, because they knew what they were getting into when they paid the money.”

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Buying and holding the building is costing the developer £1.5million, according to agent Robert Pomery.

Representing the developer, Mr Pomery said the site is a “problem” for both the town and the applicant, claiming a refusal would leave the site undeveloped indefinitely.

He said: “It’s been vacant for some 19 years, which is testament to the challenges it presents us all.

“The applicant has put forward a scheme, one supported by expert heritage advice, which is the most viable option that gets the work done and which the applicant is prepared to deliver.”

Councillor Michael Lilley (Labour, Old Heath and The Hythe) said this was not a good enough reason to remove a piece of Colchester’s history which "means a lot" to local people.

This is the latest attempt to redevelop the neo-Spanish style cinema. A separate residential scheme was rejected in May last year and plans to convert it into a nightclub refused on appeal in 2006.

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