Campaigners’ concern over plans for pub next to bombsite

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PLANS to save an “iconic” bombed out cinema could be placed in jeopardy by a planning application to develop the pub next door, campaigners say.

For the past five years campaigners have been working on plans to buy the ruined National Picture Theatre on Beverley Road and turn it into a memorial and educational resource.

The theatre was packed with people wanting to see Charlie Chaplin in the satire the Great Dictator on the night of March 17 1941 when it was attacked by enemy aircraft.

Remarkably no one was injured as they sheltered in the foyer and although the building was gutted, the brick walls withstood the blast.

Today hidden by hoardings off the busy road, its interior is more like a woodland, with trees thrusting past bare girders to an open sky.

The remains were given a grade II listing in 2007, and have been described as of “iconic importance” and “one of the most powerful reminders of one of the most formative periods of the 20th century.”

But some councillors have been less flattering. At previous meetings the site has been described as an “absolute eyesore”.

A planning application by the owner of the site being discussed next week seeks to build a car park and beer garden to serve the adjacent Swan Inn at the back of the lot in which the theatre stands as well as a new extension and 2m fence.

City council planners believe it is better to bring the pub, which has stood empty for years, back into use, rather than leaving it semi-derelict.

But campaigners say it will scupper their plans - which were granted permission two years ago - to turn what is now the only Blitzed civilian building ruin left standing in England into a viable attraction.

National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust secretary Alan Canvess said the car park would take up the space allotted for an educational building: “If he builds a car park it puts to an end to the educational building works which is essential to the viability of the site. It doesn’t stop us getting the ruins in good order, but it would cause difficulty in getting machinery on and problems in maintaining them in good order. There would be ruins, with no way of charging for educational visits.”

Treasurer Hilary Byers added: “Even if we don’t get the building we still want to put interpretative material on the site, reenactments and other events involving the public. A fence immediately behind the ruins doesn’t leave us with enough land to carry out those activtiies.”

Hull Council and the owner are still negotiating over a price.

English Heritage, which has supported the trust’s plans to redevelop the site, is also objecting, saying partitioning off the site will detract from the site’s poignancy. They state: “The harm would be substantial and would go to the heart of why the National Picture Theatre was listed and why it is a special place.”

However planners disagree and are recommending approval. They say the proposals shouldn’t prejudice other schemes.

A council spokesman said the developers were not proposing to touch the old cinema. He added: “In balance we consider bringing the pub back into use better than leaving it semi-derelict as it is at the moment.”

During the war Hull was the most heavily bombed British city outside London. Air raids went on longer in Hull than any other city, even after the opening of the Russian front. It was subject to the first daylight air-raid on Britain during the war and coincidentally, the last piloted attack on 17 March 1945.

Wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison wrote in his memoirs: “In my experience the town that suffered most was Kingston-upon-Hull.”

The saga of finding a use for the bombed out cinema started shortly after the war ended. In 1950 an outline planning permission was granted to reinstate the theatre, but nothing happened. And in 1954 proposals to use it to manufacture furniture were turned down.