Published: 22nd April, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
A PLANNING inspector has thrown out a scheme to develop Islington’s iconic former Mecca bingo hall in Canonbury, it was announced this week.
Plans for the 1930s built Grade II-listed building in Essex Road – famous for its neo-Egyptian frontage – would have included a new cinema, conference rooms and housing.
But the inspector argued that the scheme on offer was “poor quality” and did not address Islington Council’s need for more affordable housing. He also awarded costs for the appeal to the council.
Canonbury Conservation Society, who had been fighting the scheme at the former Carlton cinema, said “it was a victory for common sense”.
The developers are London-based non-denominational Christian church and charity Resurrection Manifestations, who purchased the landmark three years ago. They are expected to submit a new application.
Aaron Armah, the church’s marketing director, said: “It is our intention to restore this building to its former glory after [it has been] left empty for the last three and half years and further vandalised.
“A local medium-size cinema, business training and education centre and private flats will help fund the project.
“Our aim is to maximise the potential of this local treasure by providing an inclusive mix of uses, which will enable all local residents to benefit from it. It will also include a Resurrection church.”
The decision follows a public inquiry in January and February this year.
The position of the council was that the proposals were not financially viable and that important structural matters had not been fully addressed. There was also considerable doubt that the proposal would achieve what it set out and secure the future of the building, it was claimed.
In addition, the council raised a number of other concerns. These included the impact on the historic building itself and the wider Canonbury Conservation Area from the extensions to the roof and the rear.
The inspector argued that housing provision was not of an appropriate standard to meet the needs of the borough and, furthermore, that the applicant had not adequately demonstrated that no affordable housing could be provided.
The building is on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register.
Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and leisure, said: “We want to see the old Carlton Cinema restored and brought back into use for our community.
“However, the current owners put forward a very bad scheme for this site. It would not have secured the future of the building. And it did not contribute at all towards the affordable housing which Islington so badly needs.
“The appeal inspector completely supported our case and, unusually, awarded costs against the owners.”
Chairman of the Canonbury Society, Philip Walker, said that the proposed development had not been thought through.
He added: “The engineering works involved to dig out the large basement [for banqueting facilities] and to build another storey and a half [for more residential flats] spanning the auditorium was both expensive and, in our view, wholly unnecessary to preserve this important listed building.”
“We hope that another application – more modest and more sensitive – is made, which will concentrate on restoring the building as well as constructing flats at the rear which will improve the whole aspect of Astey’s Row and the children’s playground for the benefit of all.”
• Islington’s famous OAP band The Zimmers was formed following a battle to save the Mecca bingo hall. Its lead singer Alfie Carretta died last year, aged 93.