Champion boxer Alex Arthur joins fight to save Southside cinema building

Proposed facade of The New Victoria in Edinburgh
Campaigners recently produced this artist’s impression of their proposed facade for Edinburgh’s old Odeon

A community effort to save an Edinburgh cinema has been stepped up.

Southside Community Council is calling on the City of Edinburgh Council to take action to save the former Odeon cinema building on Clerk Street.

The community group has written to the council asking for compulsory “urgent” repairs to be carried out and to set in motion compulsory purchase proceedings.

Former WBO super featherweight champion and local resident Alex Arthur is among those to have signed a new petition supporting the campaign. He said:

“My wife and I had our first date at the Odeon and we continued to go there for years.

“I’m a real Southside lad, and apart from training at the boxing gym in Leith, I’ve never gone far away.

“The Southside would benefit from a local cinema, and I would like to take my sons there some day.”

The campaign is also backed by local MSP Sarah Boyack and MPs Sheila Gilmore and Ian Murray.

The building’s owner, Duddingston House Properties, is yet to publicly comment on any of the bids made for the former cinema following a submission deadline on 5 January.

Hilary McDowell, the community council chair, said urgent repairs were needed to make the building wind and water tight. She said supporters want action to at least stop the building deteriorating further. It was purchased by Duddingston House Properties in 2003. She added:

“The building is currently B-listed, giving it a measure of protection, but not enough. Historic Scotland have stated that it should be ‘A’ listed, a listing grade which would give much more protection from future developers.

“The community sees no reason why the listing should not now be upgraded, and calls on the council and Historic Scotland to do this urgently.”

Southside Labour MP Ian Murray, believes the building houses “one of the finest amphitheaters in Europe. He said:

“Iconic and historic buildings must be preserved wherever possible. The Odeon building is one of the finest amphitheatres in Europe and must be preserved.

“Local community groups and residents are fighting hard to save the building.

“Let’s all do as much as we can to preserve the Odeon for future generations. For many local people around the ‘Odeon’ it would be a convenient local cinema. It is certainly a place I would frequent given its locality to where I live.”

While Murray relates to the building as the old Odeon, others in the area remember it as the New Victoria cinema. A campaign to resurrect it as such has been reported on previously on Guardian Edinburgh.

What do you call it? The old Odeon? Or the New Victoria? Have your say below.

Jonathan Melville, a local resident and editor of the ReelScotland film website, is the Evening News’ film critic.

He warns that a sound business case should be central to any revamp. He said:

“It’s important to protect Edinburgh’s architectural heritage, and the idea of rejuvenating the old Odeon into a new arts venue is an appealing one.

“However, with the recent closure of the nearby Roxy Art House, I’d question how much demand there is for the New Victoria and hope it’s being done for the right business reasons rather than nostalgic ones.”

Sheila Gilmore, Ian Murray’s Labour colleague in Westminster, said:

“I am delighted to add my support to the saving of this iconic building, and bringing it back into use by the community.”

Plans, including those put forward by the New Victoria group, deserve a fair hearing according to Edinburgh Central MSP Sarah Boyack. She said:

“The Odeon building is an extremely important part of Edinburgh’s architectural heritage and a building which the people of the Southside remain extremely passionate about.

“It is an important part of Scotland’s cinema history and given the love that people have for this old building I would be delighted see it turned in to a facility which could continue as an important cultural venue.

“It is extremely sad to see the level of deterioration to the building’s fabric which has developed over the last few years and it is clear action must be taken.

“I am aware of proposals from several parties for arts and community uses which would restore and maintain the interior. I believe it would be a huge missed opportunity if these proposals were not given a fair hearing.”

The petition invites people to send emails to the local head of planning, John Bury, and the council’s planning meeting convener, Jim Lowrie.

As well as being available online, petitions will be available for people to sign at venues around the Southside including the Southside Community Centre in Nicolson St, The Kings Hall in South Clerk St and The Metropole in Newington Road.

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