Campaigners have launched a bid to save an art deco cinema at the centre of a Beatles heritage site where John Lennon spent many “happy hours”, as it faces demolition to make way for a new Lidl branch.
The discount supermarket chain revealed plans to pull down the Abbey Cinema in Wavertree village, Liverpool, after surveys it commissioned suggested the property was “beyond economic repair”.
The proposals, which the firm has opened to public consultation before a planning application is submitted, show Lidl would replace the former Co-op store with a design intended to “pay tribute” to the original building.
The move has been widely condemned by heritage campaigners and locals.
An application to make the cinema a listed building has been submitted by Save Britain’s Heritage, and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been sent a report by Historic England inspectors.
In the original lyrics to the song In My Life, released in 1965, Lennon referred to the cinema as somewhere he had spent “happy hours”, while bandmate George Harrison was born opposite the building.
Liverpool planning expert Jonathan Brown, who prepared the listing application for Save, said: “To replace an elegant 82-year-old survivor of the Blitz with a single-storey shed in a car park is the equivalent of recording over an Oscar-winning epic with a wobbly home movie.”
The application has gained public support with assistance by Wavertree resident Clare Devaney, whose petition to save the building with “A Lidl help from its friends” has been signed by almost 6,000 people.
Ms Devaney wrote: “The Abbey’s Beatles heritage and the building itself are of huge significance to our community. It stands proudly as a gatekeeper to our high street, overlooking a group of other listed buildings, including the famous Lockup (1796) and Picton Clock (1884).”
Save has asked Lidl to produce the structural survey that led them to decide the building is not financially viable.
Architectural historian and Save executive president Marcus Binney said: “It’s wholly premature for Lidl to pitch demolition while the Abbey Cinema is still being considered for listing – it looks like an attempt to pre-empt the process.
“Liverpool only recently lost the remarkable Futurist Cinema on Lime Street to a Lidl, in one of the worst acts of municipal vandalism of the century. We must resist a false choice between investment and dereliction – there is no good reason why Lidl cannot reuse the existing building, which has been empty less than a year.
“Lidl should see it as a privilege to work within such a striking Liverpool landmark.”
Abbey Cinema is legally protected as a “designated heritage asset”, but this does not protect the building from demolition.
Lidl said the new store would create up to 30 jobs.
A spokesman for the supermarket said: “Lidl GB has considered all options for the site and commissioned a thorough independent report from a chartered civil and structural engineer who concluded that the building is in a poor condition and not viable to renovate.
“Notably, the building’s steel frame is corroding and the structure of the feature corner above the entrance is beyond repair.
“We are proposing to replace the current premises with a unique store to serve the local community, provide jobs and bring life back to this site.
“The surveys and findings will be submitted with the planning application and we would be happy to share these once the application is live.”