A popular Edinburgh bingo hall once home to Scotland’s biggest movie theatre is to be protected by conservation status thanks to the efforts of the local community.
Edinburgh City Council’s planning committee reversed a decision taken earlier this year to exclude the rear of the bingo hall at the former railway arches on Manderston Street from an extension to the Leith Conservation Area – despite a public consultation previously showing the back of the building included in the revised zone.
In a report, the council attempted to justify the change made by officials between the engagement process and a meeting in February where councillors agreed on the new boundary.
It said the proposals included in the consultation clashed with its ‘Place Brief for Leith Walk/Halmyre Street’, which sets out plans for vehicle access at the rear of the building as part of future redevelopment of the site.
Green Party councillor Chas Booth said the omission of the 96-year-old structure, which features an Art Deco interior, would leave it “vulnerable to demolition or redevelopment”.
In a conservation area, demolitions and redevelopments are subject to stricter planning controls which protect buildings of historical interest.
The area’s three community councils, representing Leith Harbour and Newhaven, Leith Links and Leith Central, said the council had “serious questions” to answer.
Speaking on behalf of the groups, Pierre Forrester told the planning committee on Wednesday, June 8, the bingo hall “provides a great social service to many older people and is very popular”.
He added: “The building is really beautiful inside too, it is the last functioning one in Leith and a great asset.
“Back in 2021 the three Leith Community Councils grouped and wrote a letter of support to this consultation.
“We wrote: ‘We Leith Community Councils would like to express our full support in response to the initiative by the council to seek views from the community about the proposal to extend the Leith Conservation Area to include the arches on Manderston Street and Jane Street along the former Capitol Theatre.’
“You can imagine how surprised we were when we discovered that on February 23, 2022, the bingo hall was missing from the approval papers by the planning committee. We expressed our concerns and asked for an explanation for the situation because we were thinking that maybe the planning committee weren’t given the full information. Indeed, the executive summary never mentioned that the bingo hall, once Capitol Cinema, was excluded from this vote which we thought was quite a major point.
“The question here is not whether the planning committee is against redevelopment but whether the planning committee is against protection. The bingo hall is in good condition, its redevelopment is compatible with a new life for the building; it could be an art gallery, or Leith’s museum, a bingo hall again, or a community space.”
The committee were also told the bingo hall is the “only way of socialising or communicating with other people” for many in the community.
Mr Forrester continued: “If nobody asked for the bingo hall to be removed from the conservation area, surely something went wrong within the council because it doesn’t come from the people in Leith, it doesn’t come from beyond Leith.
“To justify the removal of the bingo hall by just narrowing a narrow piece of heritage; Leith is more than railways, Leith is about the bingo hall, Leith is about the Shore, it’s about centuries of history. We did not understand what has happened, it made no sense to us. That’s why I would say it is a mistake.”