The rebirth of Hucknall’s Byron Cinema moved a step closer this week when its new owners finally started work on the site.
However, controversy has arisen over a new plan to change the entrance to the iconic building, with critics claiming it could “destroy its heritage”.
It’s exactly a year since the art deco Byron, which dates back to 1936, was bought for what was believed to be £360,000 in a private deal by Irish commercial property firm, Melcorpo.
This was after the imposing building, which is seen as the gateway to Hucknall for visitors from the south, had failed to sell at public auction.
The firm’s proposal to bring it back to life as a four-screen, two-floor cinema, to be called The Arc, excited residents and councillors alike.
Its initial opening date of this month had to be scrapped because of delays. But on Monday, contractors moved on to the site at the junction of High Street and Duke Street, and Melcorpo, which has 30 years of experience in the cinema industry, insisted the project was firmly on track.
Owner Brian Gilligan said: “It’s great to hear that people in Hucknall are getting excited.
“We are really keen to open as soon as possible and, therefore, we are delighted that contractors started work on the site this week. We should be open in early 2020.”
This week’s work has led to the partial closure of Duke Street, where residents have been told things might not return to normal until the end of February.
Those residents include Ria Cash, the chair of the Byron Community Project, which has led a seven-year campaign to restore the cinema back to its former glory.
At one stage, members were hopeful of taking over the Byron themselves and turning into a non-profit-making cinema and entertainment venue for the Hucknall community.
The group has persuaded Ashfield District Council to register the building as an asset of community value (ACV). But it also revealed this week it is concerned that Melcorpo’s plans could damage the Byron’s heritage status.
It was upset that the new owners were given permission by the council to erect a 2.4-metre high fence on the top of the building, ostensibly to protect air-conditioning units, and also to replace its brick exterior with new cladding.
Now, the group has protested about the scheme for a new entrance on Duke Street which is set to come before the council’s planning committee next Wednesday morning.
Ria said: “The fence on the roof is not needed. It will make the cinema look like a jail.
“The building will not benefit from cladding either. The brick pattern of the building is unique.
“As for the new side entrance, this will dramatically change the appearance of the building, and is not a necessary change.
“The original entrance coped, and allowed a successful cinema to thrive for more than 60 years.
“The residents of Duke Street have also expressed their concerns about the additional traffic the plan will bring, as well as the extra footfall and noise.”
The Byron Community Project claims that the latest plans would have been eased through by the council had they not been ‘referred’ to the planning committee by Hucknall councillor Lauren Mitchell.
Both Coun Mitchell and Ria intend to speak at next Wednesday’s meeting, and the group is so concerned by the council’s handling of the cinema’s revival that it has submitted a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Ria added: “We are desperate to preserve the heritage of this building and, at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be getting any protection at all.
“What if this cinema fails? What will we be left with? We could have lost more than 80 years of heritage.
“We need a cinema and a venue that Hucknall can be proud of.”
However, Ria’s hopes of dashing the entrance plans appear limited because the recommendation from council officers is to give them conditional consent.
Their report reads: “The proposal helps to improve the quality and appearance of the existing building and brings it back into active use.
“It is envisaged that the new cinema will trigger future growth for the night-time economy and attract more people into the town centre.
“The proposal does not have a significantly detrimental impact on Duke Street residents. There is parking nearby, within walking distance, at Ogle Street, Piggins Croft and Hucknall Station.”
One of the chief concerns of critics was that the new-look entrance would not retain its iconic canopy and art deco fin at the front.
But officers reassured them that the canopy will be extended and while the fin would be replaced, the proposed changes would “maintain the special character of the building”.
Their report continued: “The new entrance will be under a canopy that is a continuation of the existing one.
“The fin, which is not the original, is in poor condition and requires significant repair.
“Its modern replacement is of similar size, design and scale and will enhance and respect the original design of the building.”