SPECIAL REPORT - Harrogate to get new £10m cinema complex

An artist's impression of the new cinema complex at the old Beales site. (S)
An artist's impression of the new cinema complex at the old Beales site. (S)

A new £10m cinema complex is coming to Harrogate after plans were approved to bulldoze the old Beales department store and create a “striking” new structure in its place.

The new building on the corner of Station Parade will house a four-screen arthouse cinema, along with nine units which could become restaurants, bars, shops or offices.

And while owner 4Urban refuses to be drawn on rumours that Everyman cinema, which runs a branch at Trinity Leeds, has already signed a contract on the site, it has pledged a whole new offering to the town, with “quality London-centric” restaurants and bars.

“This will set Harrogate apart in terms of what the town can offer,” said managing director Paul Lancaster. “It will be a striking building.

“This will be good for residents, good for tourists, good for the conference centre trade. This has got to be a plus point in terms of what the town can offer.”

The full plans, which have been under consultation and debate for several months, were approved by planners at Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) on Tuesday.

Concerns had been raised about the size of the structure and its appearance within the Harrogate conservation area, but the plans were passed unanimously.

Work will now start in January to demolish the existing three-storey building, built in the 1950s and home to the former Co-operative Society and Beales department store.

It is hoped, say owners, that the new cinema will open towards Christmas 2015, while the restaurant and bar units may even be open by this time next year.

“This is about raising the bar in Harrogate,” said Mr Lancaster. “Harrogate has to keep moving forward. We have to be world-class at leisure. This does that.

“I don’t think we can compete with York or Leeds from a retail perspective. We can now compete for a social and leisure perspective.”

The inside story

It’s been billed as a scheme which will change the face of Harrogate. As plans are approved to create a new £10m art-house cinema complex in the town centre, RUBY KITCHEN reports.

“There’s got to be more reason to come here than to walk down James Street and go to Bettys. We want people to come to Harrogate at nine in the morning and leave at nine at night.”

The new plans will see a new four-screen art-house cinema, showing everything from live opera to the latest box-office hit, built on the corner of Station Parade.

It will also house nine new potential restaurants and bars - all ‘London-centric’ and new in style to Harrogate.

And the scheme, say owners, will take Harrogate to a new level for leisure in terms of the quality on offer.

“This is about raising the bar in Harrogate,” said Paul Lancaster, managing director of development company 4Urban which owns the site.

“I think it will be good for the people of Harrogate. And when people see the quality of what’s on offer, Harrogate will be as thrilled as we are.”

The old 1950s Beales building, which shut its doors last month, will be demolished in January to make way for this new modern structure.

In its place will be built a three-storey complex, housing nine units with flexible permissions which could become bars, restaurants, shops or offices.

A new-art house cinema will take up two-storeys, coming with its own first-floor restaurant and balcony bar.

Mr Lancaster would not be drawn on reports that this would be an Everyman, but the group has announced in its mid-year reports that it has signed a contract for a new cinema in Harrogate.

Instead, he has said it is too early to comment on any of the plans, adding that four of the units are currently under offer.

“We don’t want to be blinkered,” he said. “We want to go back out to the market and ask who else wants to come.

“That might be a bar, it might be retail. We are genuinely open minded.”

The company bought the site five years ago for development, he said, initially appealing to retail stores to fill the space.

Fenwicks had looked, he revealed, but decided they were already well represented in the town at Hoopers.

And John Lewis, he said, decided “Harrogate wasn’t right for them” and went for Leeds and York instead.

“Interest from the retail sector was almost non-existent,” he said. “But cinema and restaurant companies came to us.

“It soon became apparent that was the way we were going to go.”

A consultation, held earlier this year, found that 70 per cent of people were in favour of the plans.

One main concern, he said, was that the new cinema would be in direct competition with the Odeon. But, he added, it was a completely different market.

“There will be a greater quality of offer, a range of films,” he said. “It will be more expensive that the Odeon.

“The Odeon has just signed a 25 year lease on their property earlier this year. They are committed. On the face of it, they are not worried.

“We don’t think it will be competing directly. It may introduce an element of competition. That will be great for everybody.”

There was debate in the council chamber on Tuesday before the plans were unanimously approved.

First, was there enough parking for the scheme? And second - could the town soon become over-saturated with too many restaurants?

But, said Mr Lancaster, there are 450 on-street car parking spaces within a five-minute walk of the development.

“I can’t think of another town or city with the on-street parking that Harrogate has,” he said. “That’s not representative of what goes on in other towns.”

And, he said, while Harrogate did have a lot of restaurants, these would be of a different type.

“A lot of what’s here is very similar and middle of the road,” said Mr Lancaster.

“It’s fair to say we’ve had discussions with four restaurants who will be new to this area. They are in Manchester and London at the moment.

“We’re looking to take it up not just one level, but two or three. And no, it’s not Nando’s.”

READER RESPONSE

Alessia Di-Capua, a student, 18 from Ripon Road in Harrogate

“It will definitely be better than the Odeon. I’m hoping the prices will be more reasonable - it’s very expensive at the Odeon. It’s a big ugly lump at the moment, it will be good to see it rebuilt.”

Michael Anderson, 60, a semi-retired medical worker from Valley Drive, said: “I hadn’t realised it was going to be a cinema. The fact that it was a department store before and it wasn’t doing well shows that it makes sense to do something new. I can see a quirky arts cinema doing well. With the restaurants though, I wish them well. I don’t know how they are going to compete.”

Denise Mullen, 44, a teacher and writer from Ripon

“We’ve got a Curzon in Ripon and they never show anything that anyone wants to watch. It’s all things like live opera - you can go see the opera for real in Leeds for the same price. I don’t know if Harrogate wants another cinema, I wouldn’t travel here just for it. This is a big building in the centre of town and they should put their thinking caps on and do something else.”

Billy Holdsworth, 19, a Ripon student

“I’ve never been to the Curzon in Ripon, it’s not really aimed at younger people like me. There’s nothing for people my age to do in winter time, we’d like a space used for more indoor events. Bowling, a music venue, we travel to Leeds if we want something to do.”

Claire and Peter Ribbon, a retired couple in their 70s from Cavendish Avenue

“We’ve bought quite a few things from Beales when it was a department store. We’re sorry it’s going. We haven’t got a department store now in Harrogate. That’s a shame - Harrogate needs more shopping areas. We feel quite limited and end up going to Leeds. Is there call for an arts cinema?”

Karen Dallas, 49, a mother from Pannal

“I think it’s a mistake to build a cinema here. I drop my son off at the Odeon quite a lot and I just don’t know how people are going to park here. There’s going to be restaurants as well - and haven’t we got enough of them? It’s always been a department store and that’s what we need. I’d love a Zara in Harrogate. We need more shops.”

Michael Anderson, 60, a semi-retired medical worker from Valley Drive

“I hadn’t realised it was going to be a cinema. The fact that it was a department store before and it wasn’t doing well shows that it makes sense to do something new.”

Katie Moran, retired pensioner from Spofforth

“I don’t think the building suits a cinema very well. It’s going to be a great dark building on one of Harrogate’s nicest streets.”

History of the Beales site

Sunwin House, housing the former Beales department store, was built in 1959.

It stands on the site of a former church, the Victoria Park Methodist Church, which was demolished in 1954.

This Victorian Gothic building, built by Richard Ellis at a cost of £4,955.9s.10d, was opened on Thursday, August 17 1865.

Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam can still remember a time before it was turned to rubble, when he would meet his mother there for a trip round the shops after school.

“On one occasion I remember that my mother was unusually silent as we left the shop,” he said. “She took me to the edge of the pavement and pointed across to Station Parade’s most imposing feature - the Victoria Park Methodist Church - and said the shop assistant had told her that “the lovely old church” was to be demolished.

“Sure enough, the following year saw the church being pulled down.”

The site was empty for several years, he says, becoming a grassy expanse with seats and benches.

Then, in 1958, work began on the existing building to house a bigger Co-operative Society, which opened November 12, 1959.

The building, he said, was an “oblong shoebox”, flat roofed and banal.

Sunwin revamped the store in 2002, painting it white and ridding it of its canopy.

“But in truth,” said Mr Neesam, “Nothing anyone could do would hide the fact that the building was an alien interloper in a purely Victorian townscape.”

Mr Neesam says he has always found Beales to be a welcoming and well-stocked business.

“Yet I must admit that for decades I have wished that the ugly shoebox of a building that houses Beales’ excellent business could vanish,” he adds.

Now, as Mr Neesam seems set to get his wish, he said: “Although I’m not happy with the appearance of the building I’m very happy with its new function.

“I don’t think it will be a rival to the Odeon, which I’m a great supporter of. It will be a boost to the local economy.”

Pictures from the Walker-Neesam archive. (S)