Historic Edinburgh cinema wins reprieve

CAMPAIGNERS fighting an attempt to demolish a historic cinema building to make way for a new hotel are celebrating after the plans were called in by the Scottish Government.

Only the art deco facade of the former Odeon in Edinburgh's southside would have been retained, although experts rate the auditorium one of the best in the country.

Plans for a boutique hotel, bar-restaurant and art gallery were agreed by councillors after just one hearing, despite protests from the national heritage watchdog Historic Scotland.

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Now a public inquiry will decide the fate of the building and the 20 million development.

The building's owner, the developer Duddingston House Properties, has come under fire for its handling of the building, which has been lying empty for several years since it was last deployed as a temporary Fringe venue.

A previous scheme to create student flats on the site was shelved amid protests about the loss of the cinema auditorium, while plans for a nightspot or concert venue on the site were met with equal opposition.

Campaigners, who collected more than 5,000 signatures on a protest petition have been lobbying MSPs of all parties.

Sana Bilgrami, spokeswoman for the Save the Odeon campaign, said: "The decision to call in these plans is quite a turnaround, and we are confident the plans for the Odeon will now get the fair and unbiased hearing it failed to get during the council's planning process.

"But we are not complacent, and there will be no let-up in our campaign to save this wonderful building for the city and citizens of Edinburgh."

The surprise decision, revealed by culture minister Mike Russell yesterday, is another major embarrassment for the council's planning committee.

In the last year alone, the local authority's handling of major developments has seen the capital's world heritage site come under investigation by heritage body Unesco, while a 17-storey hotel development in the Haymarket area has been called in for a public inquiry, which is currently ongoing.

Mr Russell said:

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"This is a complex case and it is important all aspects are considered to determine the best way forward.

"A wide range of factors will have to be taken into account, including the current economic climate, but I am sure we can resolve the matter as quickly as possible."

The government's decision, made on the strong recommendation of Historic Scotland officials, will mean Duddingston's plans for the building being put on hold for at least a year.

Jim Lowrie, chairman of the council's planning committee, said: "We note the decision by Scottish ministers that the application should be considered at a full public local inquiry. An inquiry held by an independent reporter allows all parties to put forward their views and we will co-operate fully with the process."