CAMPAIGNERS battling to save a beloved seaside art deco cinema from demolition have launched a rival plan to restore the listed building to its former glory.

The Edinburgh-based developers Buckley Building insist their plan to keep the facade and demolish the rest of the former George Cinema in Bath Street Portobello to make way for about 20 flats.


Above: Michael Davidson of Friends of the George. Picture: Gordon Terris

However, residents behind the Friends of the George campaign have submitted rival plans to bring the building back into operation as a cinema and community and arts and education hub.

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A leading conservationist at Edinburgh University and a former Labour leader objected to the flats plan, which is due to go before councillors next week and is recommended by officials to be granted.

The developer said it would retain the existing facade as much as "realistically practical" and said it had the support of a leading heritage body.


The campaigners have identified a way to bring the C-listed cinema and auditorium back to life for £3.2m.

Michael Davidson, one of the campaigners, said there are a number of possible options being explored for funding and initial discussions with funders and agencies including Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage, the Scottish Land Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund have taken place.


Above: The interior. Submitted by Friends of the George

Mr Davidson said: "With an independent cinema as its principal focus, supplemented by flexible workspaces, the George would become a platform for leisure, learning and employment."

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Professor Miles Glendinning, Director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh University, attacked the flats plan as lacking "any apparent application of conservation principles".

He said: "The current proposals claim to retain the facade, though in fact it is not at all clear what is actually being retained."


Above: Impression of new cinema. Submitted by Friends of the George

Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale, the former Labour leader, said the proposals “currently sit in direct contrast” with planning policy.

“There are to be an additional 2,000 properties built in Portobello and the surrounding area in the coming years."


Above: County Cinema. Image provided by Buckley Building

Originally the County Cinema, it opened in 1939 and operated as a cinema until 1974, before becoming the George Bingo Hall until it closed two years ago.

It was designed by Thomas Bowhill Gibson, who also designed the Dominion Cinema in Morningside in Edinburgh under the same art deco principles.

The developer's supporting statement said: “The commitment to purchase was made in the knowledge that the new owners would have to regain the trust and substantial support of the local community and that there could be conflicting demands made for the future use of the building.

"The new owners hope that their genuine efforts to part conserve and part improve this tired iconic local landmark will be recognised through the grant of consent."


Above: The residential plan. Submitted by Buckley Building

In the most recent application to demolish the auditorium, which included keeping the façade, 307 representations were received: 166 in objection; 140 in support, and one in comment. Objections included letters from Portobello Amenity Association and Portobello Community Council.

The developer's second related application for homes had 415 representations with 261 in objection and 154 in support.

A separate community council led consultation, also held after the latest application, received 263 responses with 70 per cent objecting, nine per cent neutral and 21 per cent supportive, on changing the use to residential.

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It also found 73 per cent objected, seven per cent were neutral and 21 per cent supportive of the proposals.

The developer highlighted a Cockburn Association comment: “Members were impressed by the consideration that the architect had given to the retrofitting of art deco era design features, on-site waste management, parking provision and general landscaping.

"Thought had also clearly been given to the opportunities the redevelopment of the cinema site presents in terms of improving the streetscape quality of adjacent streets and the outlook from neighbouring residential properties.”

Among support, the council listed four notes of support without addresses.

One read: “The current building on the site has been deteriorating for some time and these proposals provide a real opportunity to give it a new lease of life.”