Plan to demolish Wakefield's ABC Cinema to make way for car park withdrawn

The cinema was considered to be beyond repair and earmarked for demolition, but opinion was mixed over whether a historical building in the city should be lost completely.
The cinema was considered to be beyond repair and earmarked for demolition, but opinion was mixed over whether a historical building in the city should be lost completely.

Plans to knock down a historic cinema left derelict in Wakefield city centre for more than 20 years have been withdrawn.

An application was submitted to turn the former ABC Cinema on Kirkgate into a car park amid plans to regenerate that part of the centre.

The roundabout at the end of the street has been revamped and plans are in place to knock down the former Chantry House council building – broadly thought to be an eyesore – and replace it with homes.

The cinema was considered to be beyond repair and earmarked for demolition, but opinion was mixed over whether a historical building in the city should be lost completely.

A group that looks after cinema heritage and Wakefield Civic Society said it was short-sighted to demolish the Art Deco auditorium and welcomed the decision.

Their comments came alongside complaints from traders on Kirkgate that their area of the city was being overlooked while regeneration takes place elsewhere.

Civic society chairman Kevin Trickett said: “We want to know the next part of the plan but the withdrawal has removed the immediate threat to the building. Although we have not objected to demolition in the past when there was a plan to replace this time we did because the suggestion was to replace it with a car park.

“The car park was listed as temporary, but we have seen a number of examples where the car park has ended up being there forever.

“Someone with vision and money could turn that site into something quite spectacular, but to demolish one of the city’s only Art Deco buildings with no plan in place would be a shame.”

He said there were already examples in West Yorkshire of similar buildings left derelict being redeveloped.

“We feel sure that people would support a project to bring the building back into use, possibly as a live music venue to build on the city’s growing reputation for music and live performance,” he said.

“It is being done elsewhere – we need only look as far as Bradford for inspiration and to the project, still in its infancy, to redevelop the former Odeon cinema there. I am sure there are other examples we could also examine.

“We think, with the right leadership and access to funding streams, a similar project could be mounted in Wakefield that would help to bring new life and interest not only to the building itself but also into this rather run-down area of the city.”

Opened in 1935 as The Regal, the cinema became the ABC in 1962. It closed in 1997 from mounting competition from the city’s new Cineworld.

The Cinema Theatre Association (CTA), which works to preserve such buildings across the country, wrote a strongly-worded letter criticising the council for allowing the building to fall into disrepair when the demolition proposals were announced.

And now, following the withdrawal, Peter Wylde, from the CTA, said: “It is a partial victory. Our view hasn’t changed. We were opposed to demolition and I had lot of discussions with officers and I think they were unhappy with it as well.

“A senior council officer told me regeneration was difficult in Kirkgate because there is not much commercial interest in the area. The council needs to think about the future and commission a wide-ranging feasibility study into what could be done.

“It needs to look at other area of Yorkshire and think about music, arts, commercial – the whole picture – to plot a future for the building.

“Between the ABC and the river the council has invested and we recognise they are making efforts in that area, but they just need to grasp the nettle with the ABC site.

“We would be happy to help and discuss similar regeneration schemes we have seen around the country.”

In a document submitted with the original planning application, the developers said: “The site has been earmarked for some 20 years for both its former use and proposed redevelopment.

“It has been accepted by the council that there are no reasonable reuse for the site.

“It is clearly considered that any harm by the removal of this eyesore is more than outweighed by the benefit of improving the character and amenity of the area and allowing the site to be brought forward for development proposals in the medium term.”

Neil Rodgers, service director for planning, transportation and highways at Wakefield Council, said: “The application for the ABC Cinema is still currently being considered and a decision will be taken at a future date.”