A developer who challenged planners to “dismiss and rethink” rules in order to “just get things done” has been awarded listed building consent for flats in a former Aberdeen cinema.
Bennett Group, on behalf of Glasgow-based developer Sava Estates, had urged the council to rubber-stamp their proposals for the B-listed 181 Union Street, despite the unusual inclusion of parking in a city centre development.
At its peak, hundreds of film fans would pack into the building, formerly the Gaumont and the Picture House before that, before its closure in 1973.
More recently, the upper floors have been used as offices for the NHS while the ground floor is occupied by a betting shop and another vacant retail unit.
Within five years of its closure “major interventions” were carried out on the building, council planners said, leading to the demolition of the auditorium with the current office block in its place.
The three-storey ashlar granite building – dating back to back to the 1820s – is currently up for sale, along with the adjoining 4 Windmill Brae.
Boasting the permission for the conversion into 17 flats, the owners expect around £440,000 for the lot.
Sava’s plans include a mix of studios and apartments with one, two or three bedrooms – each with its own designated parking space, which could be thought to put the project at a disadvantage in the drive to reduce car usage.
But, submitting the plans in April, Bennett Group claimed impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses should prompt council planners to “dismiss and re-think” the usual criteria by which they would judge such an application.
“When the current world health crisis is over, the need to adopt a flexible and imaginative approach to regeneration will be paramount,” planning documents state.
“If ever there was a time for the planning profession to take the helm and drive the agenda, it is now.
“And if that means setting much of the development plan aside in favour of just getting things done, it is now.”
Giving conditional consent, council officers said: “The proposed refurbishment and conversion have been designed to sufficient quality to ensure they respect the special character of the listed building and take due consideration of the character of the Union Street Conservation Area, while the proposed replacement windows enhance the external appearance of the existing building.”
Permission must be sought on building materials, new ducting and replacement windows before work can start.