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 report is here; his 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 an expensive dinner-theatre venue for small Cirque du Soleil shows.

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 looks like an alien 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 parts of the external walls – essentially creating a completely new building with parts of the old as window-dressing.
  • Loss of a valuable local cultural facility, the successful and profitable Odeon – the only reasonably priced and accessible mainstream movie cinema for the community in the West End.
  • 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 its main area dark most of the time.
  • Damage to the St. Giles playground, which would lose sunlight.
  • Harm to the amenity of neighbouring residents in New Compton Street, Stacey Street and Phoenix Street.  They will be badly overlooked and lose 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.
  • A massively destructive and unsustainable approach, going against all modern planning policies that favour preservation of as much fabric as possible.

There may be more!

If they want to build an 11 storey hotel with a cabaret theatre, why don’t they do it on a site with no existing cultural value?  Why ruin something beautiful and precious?

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 until Midnight on Sunday 28th April.  Or email by 5th May the planning department and the conservation officer, quoting application numbers 2024/0993/P and 2024/1005/L.  Please copy us at if you can, so that we know what people’s points are and can support them if possible.

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.




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