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Letter to City of Edinburgh Council re JD Wetherspoons Application for Change of Use of the Former Picture House Venue, Edinburgh

13 / 1 / 15

Dear Councillor,

I am writing once again regarding the issue of the venue previously known as The Picture House, and which is due to be discussed by the Development Planning Sub-Committee on Wed January 14th 2015, presented as 'Application for Planning Permission 14/02936/FUL At 31 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH1 2DJ, Change of use from Class 11 (Assembly and Leisure) to Sui

Generis (Public House) including external alterations.'

It is noted that the Development Management Sub-Committee, of which you are a member, has been recommended to support the application, submitted by Wetherspoons, a pub chain based in Watford.

I would urge the Sub-Commitee to reject those recommendations, as have more than 13,000 of City of Edinburgh Council's constituents in a petition which I trust is being taken into account by members of the Committee alongside all other objections to the application.

Councillors may like to take the following points into consideration prior to making their decision.

A) While the report highlights the premises' previous use as a cinema, nightclub and 'most recently as a live music venue', at no point does it highlight the significance of the premises as a music venue during two periods in its history.

1. This absence of detail in the report not only highlights a lack of institutional knowledge concerning the city's musical and cultural heritage, but also the necessity of that heritage to be preserved and archived in such a way that celebrates it whilst enabling the provision of such information, both to the public, and to CEC in instances such as this.


B) In the absence of such information in the report, councillors may wish to note the following.

1. From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, under the name the Caley Palais, the venue hosted such artists as David Bowie, Status Quo, Queen, Genesis, Alex Harvey, Runrig, New Order, The Smiths, Orange Juice, Billy Bragg, R.E.M and numerous others.

2. In the venue's second incarnation as a live music venue as the Picture House, over the five years prior to its sale and subsequent sudden closure in 2013, the venue hosted the likes of Idlewild, Chic, Marc Almond, Gary Numan, Bat For Lashes, Sparks, Nick Cave, Mogwai and many others.

3. Any suggestion that the Picture House's main function during its second period as a live music venue was as a nightclub is inaccurate.

4. As with other venues in the area, the Picture House operated as a nightclub at weekends following music events.

5. During a period between its closure as the Caley Palais in the mid 1980s and its opening as the Picture House in 2008/9, the premises operated primarily as a nightclub under various names, including The Amphitheatre and Century 2000.

6. During that period as a nightclub, the license of the premises came under threat several times, due to incidents of violence both inside and outside the premises.


C) It might be useful to the Sub-Committee if they were provided with statistics of any similar incidents which occurred during the premises' time as the Picture House, and to compare and contrast with those from the premises' time solely as a nightclub, as well as other nightclubs currently operating in the area.


D) In terms of the city's musical provision, the premises formerly known as the Picture House and the Caley Palais is unique, both in size and history as outlined above, as well as location.

1. The centrality of the premises as a music venue was crucial in terms of easy access to buses and taxis on Lothian Road, and Haymarket Station for trains, both before and after concerts.

2. Councillors and officers might argue that the Corn Exchange provides a suitable alternative to the premises, yet transport provision to and from the Corn Exchange is not as readily accessible as it is to the Lothian Road premises, particularly late at night.


E) In terms of how the premises' conversion to a large public house might affect the surrounding area, one might look at neighbouring premises.

1. The Usher Hall, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Traverse Theatre, Filmhouse, Cameo Cinema, Citrus Club, Henry's Cellar Bar and Edinburgh College of Art might be said to have been complimented by a mid-scale music venue such as the premises in its Picture House guise.

2. In contrast, other bars in the area, including a large branch of All Bar One across the road from the premises, might be said to provide enough in the way of licensed premises prior to the potential for over-saturation a new 'superpub' might bring with it.

3. One should also note that other music venues in the area, including pub venues The Tap O'Laurieston and the Cas Rock in West Port, close to Edinburgh College of Art and both significant and much lauded venues from the 1970s through to the 1990s, were demolished and replaced by flats and hotels.

4.Such small venues feed into the city's musical infrastructure, and during the premises' tenure as the Picture House, on more than one occasion artists playing at the Picture House hosted surprise after-show performances, both at Citrus on Grindlay Street, and at Henry's on Morrison Street.

5. The decline in independent local venues in the city in favour of brewery chains such as Wetherspoons with no roots in the city threatens to denude the city of its unique character and cultural life as it becomes homogenised by functional but bland outlets.

With all the above in mind, I again urge the Committee to reject the application from Wetherspoons, alongside the recommendation to support it.

Any other decision may be regarded in future as an act of cultural vandalism on a music venue with a long and proud history.

Such a decision will also have a profound effect on the City's cultural provision, whereby a brewery chain with no roots in the city is favoured over more than 13,000 Edinburgh citizens who the Sub-Committee is accountable to along with the rest of the City electorate.


Yours Sincerely,

Neil Cooper

13 / 1 / 15










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