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Plan for cinema revamp ‘threatens quiet oasis’ garden

Volunteers fear proposal to add extra floors to Shaftesbury Avenue building will block out views and affect urban wildlife

17 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley

An artist’s drawing of how the cinema could look after the proposed development

VOLUNTEERS running a community garden fear an extensive refurbishment of a neighbouring cinema – including adding new floors – will ruin their oasis from the hustle and noise of the West End.

The proposal for the Odeon in Shaftesbury Avenue, formerly the Saville Theatre, comes with the building’s owner insisting that it is falling into disrepair and that doing nothing is not an option.

But trustees and visitors at the Phoenix Garden in adjacent Stacey Street, which attracts 10 different species of bees despite the nationwide decline in their population, fear the development will have an adverse effect.

The popular Phoenix Garden in the West End

Michael Ryley, chairman of its committee of trustees, said: “The reduction in sunlight and blocking of views of the sky to the south will radically alter the ambience of the garden and the sense of enclosure will be greatly increased.”

He added: “For garden visitors, many who describe the garden as a ‘quiet oasis’, the benefit of the perception of peacefulness provided by views of an open sky and quiet space is very apparent.

“That these views of an open sky will be blocked by the development is of great concern and will likely impinge on the enjoyment of thousands of garden visitors.”

The plans have been revised over several months of negotiations, but the building is being lined up for three new storeys as a new 94-room hotel is created.

A four-screen cinema will continue to operate in the basement, alongside a spa.

Mr Ryley’s comments are featured among objections published by Camden Council on its planning website alongside the designs.

“The garden provides habitat for a range of urban wildlife, including a wide range of invertebrate species – these are likely to be negatively impacted by the increased overshadowing and loss of sunlight,” he added.

Meanwhile, several residents living nearby have raised concerns about the construction works.

Sian Williams, secretary of the Lindsay House Residents Association in New Compton Street, said: “This is a small street which has already felt the effects of Crossrail and other building nearby, and is not suitable for the intended level of traffic and then constant deliveries.”

The Saville Theatre was once a famous music hall, and in the 1960s it was a gig venue owned by Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. Rock and roll fans famously rioted during a performance by Chuck Berry when the show had been cut short by a technical glitch.

Theatre fans are concerned the changes will remove the last chance of ever bringing back a live stage. It has, however, operated as a cinema since the 1970s.

Haim Danous, the owner of the Thai Square restaurants, now owns the building through his company Capital Start, with the Odeon cinema group holding the lease.

Agents said the cinema was not bringing in enough money to pay for the building’s restoration and there was a list of issues including patchwork ceiling repairs and flood damage.

“It is clear, therefore, that the property is failing to generate a sufficient revenue stream to justify the repair and maintenance of the building,” paperwork filed with planners said. “If the current circumstances are to continue, the building will fall into disrepair and ultimately disuse. Eventually, and in the not too distant future, it will become a listed building at risk.”

It added: “The clear ambition of this proposal is to revive a dying listed building and provide it with a new commercially viable lease of life that valuably contributes to the vibrancy of the local area once more, and enables the future of this listed building to be secured.”

10 Phoenix Garden bees

• Hairy-footed flower bee
• Red Mason bee
• Blue Mason bee
• White-faced bee
• Tawny Mining bee
• Wool Carder bee
• Buff-Tailed Bumblebee
• Tree Bumblebee
• White-tailed Bumblebee (above)
• Nomada Bee

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