Cinema plans are met by objections

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Plans to extend Wetherby’s treasured cinema have been met with an outcry from historians and neighbours alike.

Owners of Wetherby Film Theatre have submitted an application to extend the Caxton Street venue at the side to create a bar and split the existing large cinema into two smaller screens, among other proposals.

Wetherby Film Theatre

Wetherby Film Theatre

In the design statement by architects Halliday Clark Ltd, on behalf of the owners, submitted to Leeds City Council planners, it states: “It is important that these proposals can be met to allow for the cinema to continue trading.

“The concept of this project is to retain the existing cinema, refurbishing the building internally to split the one large cinema into two smaller screens.

“An 89m² extension to the west of the building will give vital space for a bar and allow access down into screen two due to the level change on the site.

“The opening hours of the cinema will remain as late as they are for the existing cinema – 11pm but it is envisaged that the day time opening hours will be extending to start at 9am.

“This 9am-11pm, seven night a week opening hours allows the cinema to have day time showings to reach a different profile of audience such as older patrons and families.”

Seating will be reduced from 134 to 99.

The statement added: “Because of the split to create two screens, film times can be staggered between screens to allow for a reduced number of patrons arriving and leaving at the same time putting less pressure on the surrounding streets.”

Vehicle access is not planned and drop off and pick up is not feasible. No cycle parking will be built into the scheme.

The architects added: “Our client successfully converted the upper storey of an existing nightclub into a bespoke cinema in Ilkley.

“The design was individual to Ilkley and their aspiration is to bring that same level of individuality to Wetherby, to build on the rich history Wetherby cinema has while bringing it into the 21st century and creating a facility the community wants to use.”

But Wetherby Town Council recently decided: “Whilst the council supports the principle and reasons for this application, which should help to secure the future of this community facility and independent local business, there are some concerns about the design of the extension.

“It is considered that the proposed extension should be more in keeping with the historical façade of the existing building, which is located within Wetherby’s conservation area.”

Concerns about traffic and noise have been raised by many residents in the area and the impact of the proposed design on the Conservation area.

The Caxton Street cinema started life as the Raby and was used to entertain troops during the First World War.

During the Second World War it underwent a change of ownership and name - The Rodney.

But in the 1960s it was turned into a bingo hall until the 1990s.

Thanks to radio presenter Bob Preedy, helped by John Uphill, they reopened the building as Wetherby Film Theatre in July 1994.

In 2007 film fan Ray Trewhitt and projectionist the late Roger Spence took over from Bob, until Ray sold it in 2017.

A blue plague was unveiled in 2015 as part of the cinema’s 100 year centenary.

The Cinema Theatre Association has objected to the plans and Architectural Caseworker Rob Chesterfield said in an objection letter to Leeds council: “We urge that the council take on board our comments and reject this planning application.

“And we hope that the agent may reconsider these plans, revising them accordingly, so that the original characteristics of this rare example of an early purpose built cinema may be retained whilst protecting it for future generations to enjoy.

“We are confident that together with a more sympathetic conservation approach to layout and design, a solution may be found, which meets both economic needs of the cinema whilst retaining its unique historic charm.”

“Despite further changes of ownership in recent years the cinema has remained primarily unchanged since the first films were shown in 1915, with any refurbishment being sympathetic to the original design and layout, resulting in a unique cinema experience,” added the Cinema Theatre Association.

“It is this traditional feel that has appealed to many of its patrons and local community.”

“This early example of a purpose built Cinema is an unusual example and interesting 20th century building. Cinema buildings of this date are extremely rare.”

Comments on the application (reference 19/00038/FU) close on March 15. Visit: https://publicaccess.leeds.gov.uk/online-applications to make comments.