Flats plan for old Walsall cinema is rejected

An historic former Walsall cinema and theatre will not be converted into flats after a proposal was thrown out by planners.

The Imperial, in Darwall Street, Walsall, which closed in 2016. Photo: J Mason Associates.
The Imperial, in Darwall Street, Walsall, which closed in 2016. Photo: J Mason Associates.

Lodge Housing Ltd had hoped to create 21 new apartments in The Imperial, on Darwall Street in the town centre, having put forward the plans last year.

But Walsall Council planning officers have rejected the application, citing a number of reasons, most notably the harm the development would cause to the heritage asset which dates back to the 19th century.

They also raised concerns about a lack of information on noise prevention for future occupiers and the layout of the proposed apartments, which they said would result in a “poor standard of residential amenity”.

When the proposal emerged, heritage groups Cinema Theatre Association, Theatres Trust and the Victorian Society voiced strong objections and worked to get the building Grade II Listed status.

Lodge Housing said it would make very little changes to the exterior of the building and would be bring a vacant site back into use as well as providing much needed affordable housing.

In an ‘options appraisal’ report, Laura Wigg-Bailey of chartered planners Moss Naylor Young, said there was a concern The Imperial could go the same way of other historic buildings in the town and end up being torched.

Walsall Council’s head of planning, Alison Ives, said: “The proposal by means of its design, materials and layout would result in substantial harm to the designated heritage asset, The Imperial, as a result of extensive subdivision of the principle internal spaces and the loss of articulation between the key spaces of the building which allow its function and character to be appreciated.

“In particular the relationship of the foyer, auditorium, and stage/screen.

“There is insufficient information put forward in the submission to demonstrate how the historic detailing will be retained and recorded and how the surviving interiors would be meaningfully appreciated following the proposed conversion.

“There are no substantial benefits arising from the proposals that would outweigh this harm."

She added: “The nature of the heritage asset does not prevent reasonable use of the site and it has not been demonstrated that there is no alternative viable use of the heritage asset through marketing of the site or preserved through other means.

“The proposal is of poor design and layout which fails to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Lichfield Street Conservation Area or the Grade II Listed Building.

“The proposed development fails to preserve or enhance the architectural or historic character of the designated Grade II former Imperial Cinema.

“The building was listed as it is one of the earliest surviving English Cinemas.

“The quality of the façade and the type of building which represents an important moment in the transition of a music hall variety theatre to a cinema. The proposal does not preserve its historical context.”

The Imperial was last used as a Wetherspoon pub before it closed in 2016 and it has sat empty ever since.

It was built in 1868 as an agricultural hall before it was redeveloped to become St George’s Hall a few years later.

It became The Imperial Theatre in 1899 before it was converted again as the Imperial Picture House, Walsall’s first cinema, in 1908.

When the cinema closed 60 years later, it was turned into a bingo hall and remained so until 1997 when JD Wetherspoon took it over and reopened it as a pub.

The Grade II Listed venue was added to the National Heritage List for England in 2021.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News