Monstrous carbuncle on our elegant Odeon *

The Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue is under attack again.  Originally built as The Saville theatre in 1931, it is an unspoilt Deco gem that only just managed to escape the Blitz.

The Odeon when it was built as the Saville Theatre in 1931.

A few years ago a developer tried to kick out Odeon cinemas and gut the building, adding 2-3 floors on top so that it could be turned into a hotel with a small cinema in its 2 basements.  After a lot of local objections, Camden refused the scheme.  But the developer took it to appeal.  CGCA was very involved in the long battle that ensued across 2020-21, with volunteers taking weeks off work and many local people appearing as witnesses.

In the end the building was saved.  The planning inspector’s reasons were mainly damage to the appearance of the building and views from the conservation areas, but also damage to its character as it was no longer going to be used mainly as a place of entertainment.

The proposed frontage on Shaftesbury Avenue – a 130% increase in height, from 17 to 40 metres.

 

Now another developer, Yoo Capital, has bought the building at a higher price.  To get a return on their £30 million investment they are proposing to gut it, keep only the front and parts of the other outer walls, and turn it into a 200 bedroom hotel with an even higher extension on top.

This would more than double the building’s height, from 17 metres to 40 metres, with 6 new floors and another floor of equipment – 11 floors in total above ground level.

 

Proposed back view by St. Giles playground and Phoenix Garden (3 more stepped-back storeys will be visible from further away).

They are also proposing to create a 3rd and 4th basement, by digging out two more levels to squeeze an auditorium underneath the building as a dinner-theatre venue for Cirque du Soleil.  In this way they hope to persuade everyone that the building will retain its character as an entertainment venue, and therefore that the benefits will outweigh the harms under planning law.

 

Well, here at CGCA we certainly don’t agree.  In fact, we are not sure what benefits they could possibly provide that would outweigh all the harms.

 

 

The harms that we have identified so far are:

  • Serious damage to the appearance and proportions of the listed building, due to the mass and height of the proposed roof extension which is essentially a completely new building plonked on top.
  • Damage to the context of the building, being the Seven Dials and Denmark Street conservation areas, between which it sits and from which the extension would be visible.
  • Serious damage to the character of the listed building, which would no longer primarily be a place of entertainment but yet another anodyne hotel (proposed operator Citizen M). It would lose all the internal theatre features that it still has, including the stage house and the scenery systems.
  • Damage to the integrity of the listed building, retaining only the front façade and some parts of the external side walls intact.
  • Damage to the Phoenix Garden, the only community green space within Covent Garden together with its neighbour St. Giles Churchyard and the playground. The garden already struggles with minimal light and this would make it dark most of the time.
  • Damage to the St. Giles playground, which would lose its sunlight.
  • Harm to the amenity of neighbouring residents in New Compton Street, Stacey Street and Phoenix Street. They will be badly overlooked and lose almost all their sunlight.
  • Nuisance from servicing a 10 floor hotel and restaurant; the back streets already suffer from congestion and delivery noise.  There may also be drainage problems when 200 bathrooms are added to our strained waste water system.
  • Huge disruption from building an unnecessarily massive development, including the painful noise of demolition and basement excavation.
  • Danger of subsidence from digging out far below other buildings’ basements in the area. From old maps, we also believe that an underground river or water course is there.

There may be more!

Just like last time, it’s important that the local community makes its feelings felt to Camden.  People living near the building are appalled at the proposals.  The Phoenix Garden is deeply concerned.  Odeon regulars are depressed.  People living in the Seven Dials and Denmark conservation areas are dreading the view.  Families who use the playground are angry.  We have yet to find anyone who has a good word to say about it, other than the developers who did not arrange any of the meetings with us that they promised last year.

You can make a comment, however, short, on Camden’s website at this link.  Or email the planning officer Alex.Kresovic@Camden.gov.uk and the conservation officer Colette.Hatton@Camden.gov.uk, quoting application numbers 2024/0993/P and 2024/1005/L.  Please copy us at Planning@CoventGarden.org.uk if you can, so that we know what people’s points are and can support them if possible.

The deadline for online comments is Midnight on Sunday 28th April.

All the documents for the planning application are on Camden’s website at this link.

The first Saville theatre programme, October 1931.

 

CGCA’s position is that we would like to see this lovely building receive some TLC.  We think that it would be great turned back into a theatre, with the whole site being used as a venue of the sort that Cirque du Soleil really needs for its style of full performance rather than just a cabaret-style arrangement.

The building could probably take a modest glass roof extension of one floor for use as a restaurant – but something set well back from the building line that treats the architecture and the neighbours with respect.

 

The Beatles at The Saville in 1965, having just received MBEs. The mural behind them shows the classical inspiration for the building’s architecture.

 

 

 

* “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”, then Prince Charles on a subsequently cancelled tower extension to the National Gallery, 1984.

 

 


 

Pub nights!

 

Our first member pub night for a while was on Monday evening, 4th March 2024 at The Sun Tavern.

It was such a success that we ended up taking over most of the ground floor.  Another one is planned for June…

Hallowe’en Tricks & Treats

Our community’s annual sugar and spice fest returns on 31st October.  Brave local hosts open their homes to various small creatures prowling the neighbourhood with their parents between 5pm and 6.30pm this year.  Games, ghouls, ghosts and glucose are the order of the night.

If you would like to be considered as a new host this year, please get in touch with Amanda (ARigby@CoventGarden.org.uk).  Dressing up is not compulsory, but it’s a good excuse to wake your inner wizard!

If you are the parent of one or more afore-mentioned small creatures who are keen to join in, and you are not already on Ana Maria’s or Michelle’s lists, please contact Michelle (MZini@CoventGarden.org.uk).

‘Save Museum Street’

Campaign against demolition & monstrous development.

Campaign for refurbishment and sensitive redevelopment.

Autumn 2023 update: despite over 500 objections, including from Historic England and dozens of experts, Camden officers are recommending approval of this monstrous scheme.

Councillors will decide at the Planning meeting on Thursday 16th November 2023.   Please join us at the Town Hall to show that local people care about this, and that the democratic decision would be to refuse it.


Summer 2023 update: a slight revision of the design has been made, and applied for under Camden planning application ref. 2023/2510/P.

It is 6 metres lower but much bulkier than the previous scheme.  It’s certainly no better, and arguably less sympathetic to its surroundings.


 

We couldn’t really do better than this simple, and oh so chillingly relevant, poster from our 1970’s campaigns.

A new office block proposed to replace Selkirk House would be over 80 metres tall – 70% as high as Centrepoint, and many times more bulky.  Standing a short distance from the British Museum it would tower over our narrow streets and be seen from the capital’s most precious conservation areas in places like Bloomsbury Square, Seven Dials and Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Covent Garden Community Association, Bloomsbury Association and many auspicious organisations have joined with local residents and businesses to urge the developers to think again.  Take a look at our campaign brochure and get involved.

The developers’ impressions of the main building from various angles.

Our friends at Save Bloomsbury summarised the situation brilliantly with their initial article and an update.

The Guardian published an article on 24th July which cites this destructive scheme at its conclusion, in the context of history’s continual struggle between people who know and love the place where they feel they belong versus those who come in wanting to change it forever.

There is so much that we believe is wrong with the proposed scheme, not just to demolish Selkirk House but to develop an entire block of buildings between High Holborn and New Oxford Street – sheer lack of sympathy with its surroundings, overshadowing, under-provision of housing, no public space, 4 years of works & congestion, the environmental abuse of demolition instead of refurbishment, an ugly blot on views from many beautiful parks and squares,  a new cut-through that is likely to attract crime, the busy ongoing servicing needs of a big mixed-use site at all hours, and paving the way for a cluster of high buildings in this historic area.

Selkirk House, which was built as Trusthouse Forte’s HQ in 1968 and later became a Travelodge, is already out-of-place.  But with some TLC and a new finish it would be so much better than this collossus.

Please click here for information on how you can help us fund our defence against the scheme.  And the developers, Labtech, have put up a website to publicise the proposals.

An extensive objection has been submitted by a coalition of groups including CGCA, which outlines the many problems with the scheme.  CGCA has also submitted an individual objection.

Comments can be addressed to Planning@Camden.gov.uk quoting application ref. 2021/2954/P.

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Our AGM will be held on Tuesday 24th October 2023 at 6.30pm in the Hall of Crown Court Church (entrance on Crown Court, at the side of the Fortune Theatre; postcode WC2B 5EZ).

Light refreshments will be served.

Everyone is welcome, but please join CGCA if you are not already a member, or if you are not acompanying a family member or colleague who is.  You can join easily on our membership page here.

Members should have received notice at least 14 days in advance, by email based on the records that we hold.  However, please contact Membership@CoventGarden.org.uk if you have not received anything, or if you have joined within 14 days of the planned date.

Paperwork for the meeting can be found here on our 2023 AGM page.

Barbecue in Phoenix Garden on Sunday 25th June 2023.

Summer in the city… the best place to be is in the garden.  Not just Covent Garden, but our own gem of a semi-wild oasis, The Phoenix Garden.

On the afternoon of Sunday 25th June there will be a free barbecue in the garden.  With a forecast of 28 degrees, there will also be lots of cold drinks!

If you are a local and would like to join us, please email Admin@ThePhoenixGarden.org to be added to the guest list.

 

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