Express & Star

Delight as flats plan for former Walsall cinema is rejected

Cinema heritage campaigners have ‘warmly welcomed’ a decision not to allow an historic former Walsall cinema and theatre to be turned into flats.

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

The Cinema Theatre Association (CTA) said Lodge Housing’s plan to convert the Imperial, in Darwall Street, into 21 apartments would have destroyed the inside of the 19th century building.

Walsall Council planners rejected the application citing a number reasons, including the harm the development would cause the heritage asset.

Lodge Housing had 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.

The CTA, along with the Theatres Trust and Victorian Society, opposed the plans and worked to get the Imperial Grade II Listed status last year.

They are now keen to see a fresh use found for the venue – which was last used as a Wetherspoon pub before closing in 2016 – to breathe new life into it.

Peter Wylde, of the Cinema Theatre Association, said: “The CTA warmly welcomes the decision to refuse this very damaging application.

“We have worked on this case alongside the Theatres Trust and the Victorian Society, and in January 2022 we all secured Grade II listing for this historic cinema/theatre.

“The scheme would have destroyed the cinema’s lovely 1914 interior by the noted local architects Hickton and Farmer.

“It would have carved it up into small, sub-standard flats, with numerous small windows punched in the outside walls.

“The CTA and the other heritage bodies are keen to see a positive use for the Imperial which respects its heritage and makes it an asset for the town.

“There are many options around – bingo again, cinema, music venue, gym, or shared workspace. We are in close touch with Walsall Council on these.”

The Imperial was last used as a Wetherspoons 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.