Battle lines drawn over former cinema

Wonderlounge, Broad Street, Banbury
Wonderlounge, Broad Street, Banbury

Banbury’s Civic Society is entering a battle with Cherwell District Council over the possible loss of an iconic historic Banbury building to housing.

Chairman Rob Kinchin-Smith is opposing the loss of most of the Grand Theatre in Broad Street. Built in 1911 it was remodelled into an art deco Egyptian cinema in 1935 and most of the interior décor is still intact.

It was a bingo hall for 30 years, home to Chicago Rock Café and most recently the former Wonderlounge bar.

Owner Mentor Inns wants to tear out all but the front wall and part of the roof to build two shops, two houses and six flats between the frontage and Pepper Alley, off George Street.

Mr Kinchin-Smith said: “The proposal requires major changes... loss of the auditorium, circle, proscenium, flies and entire roof to create roof gardens and a deep atrium through the centre of the building to provide a dual aspect to the proposed flats at the front and the new town houses at the rear.”

He said what the company called ‘alterations and minor extensions’, were significant alterations and demolitions to ‘an important, locally-designated heritage asset’.

Mr Kinchin-Smith said: “This scheme is too destructive for what is after all a locally listed building. It is in the Banbury conservation area and that protects façades so that is already protected. If local listing means only the façade, why have a local listing?

“Banbury has only one art deco cinema. Do we want to lose it? Guidance says housing numbers do not take precedence over heritage.

“If the old Grand Theatre’s historic interest is only a frontage it would be OK, but do we really want to lose that auditorium space for a light well for a small number of flats?

“The building could be used as an indoor market, perhaps an antiques market, a night club or drinking establishment. The old town is desperately short of shops with a big footplate and rear access.

“We can’t afford to lose these spaces. National guidance says use should be most compatible with its historic interest.”

The original auditorium can be seen at ers/27592