THE Prime Minister is to be asked to personally step in to resolve the ongoing battle to save one of Bradford’s most iconic buildings from demolition after it emerged the agency that owns it has a contractual clause that could prevent it being demolished.
Newly-elected Bradford West MP George Galloway has written to David Cameron calling for an “urgent inquiry” into the former Odeon cinema building which has lain derelict for more than a decade after an ambitious plan to demolish it and create a mixed use development appeared to have hit the buffers.
Plans were approved in 2009 to demolish the Odeon and build New Victoria Place, a scheme from two developers, Langtree Group and Artisan H, involving a hotel, offices and restaurants.
A contract was signed between the building’s then owners, regional development agency Yorkshire Forward and Langtree Artisan, the official name for the two firms’ partnership.
Since the approval was granted Langtree H has gone into receivership and Langtree Group became the sole developer. No work has begun.
The building is wrapped in plastic sheets to prevent masonry falling and the Yorkshire Post has learned that more than £700,000 of public money has been spent on structural repairs, including repair work to the roof to protect the steelwork and the removal of asbestos.
A pledge to save the Odeon was one of the campaign platforms of Respect MP Mr Galloway, who won a by-election victory last month following Labour MP Marsha Singh’s decision to step down for health reasons and calls to save the building have intensified.
Its owner the Homes and Communities Agency, who assumed control of the Odeon when Yorkshire Forward was wound-up, has claimed that it was unable to go back on the deal it inherited which it described as “legally binding”.
But campaigners seeking to save the Odeon from demolition unearthed a clause in the contract which appears to show that it can consider alternative bids.
An extract of the contract passed to the Yorkshire Post states that: “If this agreement does not become unconditional within the Conditional Period either the Owner or Developer may terminate the contract at any time afterwards by giving written notice to the other”.
However the HCA has told the Yorkshire Post that lawyers have advised it that the development agreement still stands and that it could not be terminated without the HCA “incurring unnecessary costs”.
A HCA statement told the Yorkshire Post: “On the basis of this advice and our own experience of commercial development, the development agreement between Yorkshire Forward and Langtree still stood and therefore was legally binding. The HCA’s duty is to act reasonably at all times.
“We understand that this disappoints the local campaigners but we need to act in the interests of all taxpayers and never act unreasonably.”
The HCA declined to specify how much the “unnecessary costs” would run to citing commercial sensitivity.
Mr Galloway told the Yorkshire Post that Bradford could not have another “hole in the ground” like the troubled Westfield development.
“The means of saving it are clear. It is clear the HCA can get out of the agreement. I really feel we can save the building.”
Mr Galloway has also written to the chief executives of Bradford Council and the HCA demanding immediate action on the matter.
The Yorkshire Post contacted Langtree Group to ask if and when it would begin work on demolishing the Odeon but received no reply.