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Picture House

HebWeb, 1999

Hebden Bridge Picture House is one of the last remaining civic owned cinemas in Britain. Amazingly it can seat almost 500 people, making it one of the largest film theatres outside of the big city-centre chain cinemas. It opened in 1928 and is owned and run by Calderdale Council.

- Lee Comer - 22nd July
- Stewart Brown - 21st July
- David Shutt - 20th July
- Bob Packwood - 20th July
- Stewart Brown - 17th July
- Council tender document - 17th July
- Mass Lobby: details - 16th
- Chris McCafferty, MP - 14th July
- Liberal Democrats - 14th July
- Stewart Brown - 9th July


From Lee Comer
Thursday, July 22, 1999

Although I attended the Council meeting on 21st July, and have read the tender brief and the amendment to it which was voted through Council, I'm still in the dark. The politicians now seem more interested in trying to score points off each other about their devotion to the Picture House and to Hebden Bridge than they are in telling is the plain untarnished truth. I have several questions to ask.

1. Will the cinema be sold to a private developer?
2. Will said developer take over the management of the cinema?
3. If so, what safeguards will be built in to maintain not just the fabric of the building but the current adventurous programming, community responsive management approach, affordable pricing policies (try using your concession card at a Showcase cinema) and tea/coffee-making?

Without clear answers to these questions, we remain in the dark. I would urge everyone to write to Paul Sheehan, Chief Executive of the Calderdale Council (Town Hall, Halifax) and to the Director of Leisure Services (Carolyn Downs) to get some unpoliticised answers to these questions.

If you think we should reform the Friends of Hebden Bridge Picture House, please ring us or email us.

Lee Comer and Richard Peters
Tel/fax 01422 844421


Wednesday, July 21, 1999

Calderdale Councillors were lobbied by a large crowd of Hebden Bridge residents as they went in for their meeting this evening at Halifax Town Hall and were presented with a petition with 5500 signatures. The Council accepted an amendment (with no opposition) that the development brief not allow any "significant" change to the capacity or character of the Hebden Bridge Picture House


From Stewart Brown
Wednesday, July 21, 1999

"A major victory for the people of Hebden Bridge and the patrons of the Picture House " was the immediate response of Cllr Stewart Brown ( Lab. Calder Valley) to the decision - after a massive climbdown in response to public disquiet - at Wednesday's meeting of Calderdale Council not to pursue a development brief which would have meant the replacement of Hebden Bridge's much-loved cinema with a much smaller one as part of a wholesale redevelopment of the cinema site.

Earlier Cllr Brown handed in a 5500 signature petition from people who did not want to lose the cinema and wanted to see it enhanced with improved facilities provided its character and capacity remained unchanged. "The decision now allows potential developers to consider creating the Canal Interpretation Centre as an extension to the rear of the cinema - as was originally envisaged by the Rural Challenge Partnership - whilst leaving the body of the cinema intact, and this can only enhance the visual amenity of the rear of the building and improve the backstage facilities for live performances" said Cllr Brown.

"Even so - in view of things getting this far without proper public consultation - we will all have to continue to be vigilant but now that local people have demonstrated the strength of feeling for the cinema I don't believe there can now be any significant changes made to it without the consent of the local community", added Cllr Brown "and the Rural Challenge Partnership will also provide a check to any proposed development as will 'Yorkshire Forward' ( the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Development Agency who are funding the Rural Challenge Project ) as both bodies have stated that the replacement of the cinema is not an option. The 'listing' of the cinema will give it further protection if that happens"

Cllr Brown said that "My main concern now as Chairman of the Rural Challenge Partnership is that the political mischief of recent weeks - and in my opinion certain councillors have behaved disingenuously and irresponsibly - has interfered with what was already a very tight timescale in delivering the project and that could mean that the government's Rural Challenge money Calderdale Council won for Hebden Bridge might be lost. That would be a tragedy if it happens"

Stewart Brown

Liberal Democrats are FOR the Picture House and FOR Hebden Bridge.

From David Shutt

Not only do we want to retain the cinema but we also want to improve it! As someone who encouraged political friends and colleagues to take the cinema into council ownership over 25 years ago, the last thing I would do is support anyone who might want to close it down.

My stance, supported by colleagues, has been to try to use an opportunity presented by the Rural Challenge funding proposals (agreed in 1996) to enhance the facilities available at the cinema.

But to detail - a response to the messages on HEBWEB.

Liberal Democrats have nothing against Hebden Bridge - indeed we are very positive about the town and have spent most of our adult lives promoting and supporting it.

My attendance at the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 15th July was, I believe, my duty as the "Cabinet" member with responsibility for Community Services (which includes Leisure Services). I do not attend meetings to tell Liberal Democrat Councillors which way to vote. The difference between Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors is clearly shown by the way in which some members of the Labour group are now trying to expel one of their number for voting the way she thought best.

Michael Taylor's reason for attendance is obvious - he represents the Calder Valley Ward which includes much of Hebden Bridge.

What Councillor Stewart Brown doesn't explain is why he needed three Halifax heavies (all of them Labour members of the Cabinet) to support him.

The Council Document

The tender document scanned into the website is one of the alternatives to which the council has given consideration. The other excludes the cinema from any development proposal.
The most important feature of both the documents is that they are both marked DRAFT! I do find it interesting that the word DRAFT did not scan into your machine.

The Rural Challenge document dated August 1996 refers to partnership working and the "clear system of accountability and responsibility" as well as community consultation.

At a recent meeting of the Partnership which is overseeing these proposals, it was obvious that even the people who are supposed to be working closely with the council on this matter had been kept in the dark to an extent which I thought was unacceptable.

I shared with them the DRAFT tender documents which I thought they were entitled to see. Councillor Stewart Brown has complained about my attempt to let people know what is going on to the extent of writing to the Chief Executive and others (but not me!) with a formal complaint. So much for open government.

Liberal Democrat councillors have tried to build in safeguard after safeguard into any development brief which may be advertised to the private sector by the council. Any document issued by the council should say that the cinema is important and must be retained, and ask only for suggestions for improvement. We believe that the biggest safeguard of all is that if any proposals do come forward which are detrimental to the cinema, then these will be thrown out. Our proposals also include asking local people what improvements they would like to see and fully consulting them on any proposals which might come forward.

Thursday 15th July resolution

The actual minute inserted in the proposals by my colleague Christine Bampton-Smith last Thursday was as follows:


Resolved that:

1) the decisions contained in minute 161(b) and (c)/B77 of the Cabinet Committee be referred to Council on 21st July 1999 for approval;

2) this committee recommends the Council to amend minute 161/B77 by deleting parts (b) and (c) which be substituted with the following paragraphs:-

b) this Council strongly believes that the Hebden Bridge Cinema is a valuable community asset, the long-term future of which must be secured and that the suggested developments adjacent to the cinema site provide an opportunity - and possible funding - for enhancing the facilities available.

To this end, all avenues open to the Council to secure and enhance the facilities available to the communities of Hebden Bridge and beyond should be explored thoroughly, including the exploration of links between the cinema and the proposed Canal Interpretation Centre for any mutually beneficial developments and the exploration of links between the cinema and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television;

c) the following criteria be included in a development brief for the purpose of securing expressions of interest from the private sector:

i) that the cinema is important to the local, and wider, community;
ii) that the enhancement of facilities for cinema, the performing arts, music and amateur dramatics is a goal which should be vigorously pursued;
iii) that whilst it may be necessary to remodel or alter the existing cinema building to upgrade facilities, the present facade is an important feature of the townscape of Hebden Bridge and shall be retained; and
iv) reference to any particular number of cinema seats shall be deleted from any development brief

d) this amended development brief, along with the brief already agreed, be issued immediately;

e) the time-scale for the submission of proposals on this issue to be the same as that agreed for the site adjacent to the cinema to allow all proposals for improving the centre of Hebden Bridge to be considered together; and

f) at the same time, individuals and voluntary groups with an interest in cinema or a concern for the regeneration of Hebden Bridge be encouraged to submit suggestions on what improvements and facilities they would wish to see included in a scheme should an appropriate scheme be forthcoming. Public consultation on proposals submitted shall take place with appropriate community groups before a final decision is made.

The Cinema and the Market

The statement from Chris McCafferty's agent, Mr Tim Swift, does perhaps lead to a motive for the Stewart Brown scare story.

The one area of the Rural Challenge strategy that was put under local scrutiny was the proposal to move the market - and this was found wanting. It did not find favour with the people of Hebden Bridge and was dropped in December 1998. Because the market move was part of the Labour scheme, they are having difficulty in giving sound consideration to proposals for the canal-side site.

In summary

The downside of the cinema at the present time:
- balcony unable to be used except on a few occasions per year;
- an inadequate sound system;
- poor facilities for multi-use - amateur dramatics, art festival etc. and any community activity;
- loss-making venue even after the recent, sensible cost-saving measures.

The case for including the cinema in development proposals:
might address the downside;
could fasten the cinema (in an improved form, with greater usage) into the other proposals which may be forthcoming.
However, safeguards would include:
all the additional safeguards contained in the resolution of the meeting held on 15th July;
the major safeguard that, if a private developer comes up with inadequate proposals, they are turned down flat.

The far greatest downside is to have a loss-making, stand-alone cinema. Calderdale councillors can be very vindictive, in the 1993 Labour/Conservative budget, the council closed our Civic Hall in West Vale to save a miserable £3000. At Shelf, the 20-year-old village hall was earmarked by the Labour Council to close in 1995 (to save a paltry £2550), but was bailed out at the last minute by a private sector grant from a local business.

All our efforts have been directed at stopping any such nonsense being possible in Hebden Bridge.


The Rural Challenge programme, which was supposed to be completed within three years has been conducted in a most slothful manner.

The annual public meetings, described as "an additional feature of the accountability to the whole community" have not taken place.

This slow-moving and non-accountable activity has been presided over by none other than Councillor Stewart Brown.

"Liberals determined to get rid of Picture House"

From Stewart Brown
17th July 1999

What have the Liberals suddenly got against Hebden Bridge? They seem determined to get rid of our Picture House. The latest version of 'Carry On Regardless' was at last night's meeting of the Scrutiny Committee when Liberal Democrat Leader David Shutt (Greetland and Stainland )and deputy Michael Taylor (Calder Valley) attended to make sure their troops - Christine Bampton-Smith (Luddendenfoot) and Miss Margaret Riley (Elland) and Labour rebel Linda Riordan ( Ovenden) voted yet again to continue with their kamikaze attempt to replace the Hebden Bridge Picture House.

Council Tender Document

The Hebden Bridge Web has been sent some documents which appear to be tender invitations for the Cinema site. The existence of such a document would suggest that Calderdale has planned all along for the redevelopment of the site, without consultation of HB residents.

Tender Letter: - page one - two - three


Friday, July 16, 1999

Last night's "Scrutiny" Committee (Room 101?) of Calderdale Council has called upon next Wednesday's council meeting to re-examine the future of the Hebden Bridge Picture House by reinstating the cinema into the Redevelopment Brief. All those who want to keep our cinema are being urged to join the MASS LOBBY of Calderdale Council next Wednesday at the Town Hall at 5pm - the council meeting starts at 6pm

From Tim Swift
14th July 1999

M.P. Backs Fight to Save Cinema

Hebden Bridge M.P. Chris McCafferty has pledged her support for the campaign to save Hebden Bridge Cinema.

Calderdale Council's Cabinet Committee rejected a proposal from officers to consider bids for redevelopment which could have included private companies taking over the cinema and marina, and replacing the existing cinema with a much smaller facility. But the proposal was only defeated thanks to the casting vote of Labour council leader Michael Higgins - and now some councillors are trying to overturn the decision.

"I am concerned to discover that the threat to the cinema is still continuing", Mrs McCafferty explained. "I know how strongly people in Hebden Bridge support this facility and I will back them all the way.

"The original plans for the marina, drawn up as part of the Rural Challenge proposal, involved relocating the market to bring new business into the area and provide a venue for outdoor performances. The Liberals ran a campaign to block this - now they clearly have no idea what to put in its place. I believe that they are clutching at straws without realising how much damage they are doing to our community.

"The recent Hebden Bridge Festival demonstrated once again how popular and successful the cinema can be. It needs backing - not undermining."

Tim Swift




From Jane Brown
14th July 1999

The future development of Hebden Bridge Cinema is to be discussed again at the Community Services Scrutiny Committee on Thursday. The recent Cabinet Committee decision to exclude the cinema from redevelopment proposals has been called in for further discussion by the Labour Chair of the committee, Councillor Linda Riordan (Ovenden) and Liberal Democrat Councillor Christine Bampton-Smith (Luddendenfoot).

The objective of the move is twofold: -

To make sure the future of the cinema is safeguarded and

To try and secure part of the Yorkshire Forward development money to finance improvements to the cinema.

Councillor Bampton-Smith stressed that there was no question of the cinema being demolished. "There has been a lot of nonsense put about over the last fortnight and I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues want to make it crystal clear that we want to enhance and improve the cinema to secure its future, not to knock it down or close it" she said.

Councillor Jane Brown (Liberal Democrat - Luddendenfoot) said that there was much in the cinema that needed improvement. "For example, the balcony cannot be used except by special agreement due to health and safety problems and the facilities for live shows leave much to be desired. It may well be that the cinema needs remodelling and that parts of the redbrick portions of the cinema need substantial alterations". She stressed that the Liberal Democrat Team is determined to retain the facade of the cinema, but is open to sensible suggestions on how to enhance the building to provide wider community use.

Councillor Michael Taylor (Liberal Democrat - Calder Valley) said he was a regular user of the cinema and was determined to secure its long-term future. "However, excluding the cinema from the redevelopment was not the way to do it. The cinema could attract money by being linked to the new Canal Interpretation Centre and it would be very short-sighted to turn down such an opportunity. If we do not put the cinema on a firm and profitable footing now, then there is a risk that it could become a target for council cuts or closure in the future".

Councillor Julie Dower (Liberal Democrat - Calder Valley) said that listing the building would not help its future. "I believe that all this would achieve would be to put up the cost of maintenance, and higher running costs are the last thing the cinema needs right now. Making the cinema a listed building might protect it as a building but would not protect it as a cinema. I was born in Hebden Bridge and care very much about the town. I believe that linking the cinema to the other proposed developments could mean we have a better cinema than we have had for the last 30 years".

Councillor Jane Brown concluded: "All we are asking at this stage is that the Council asks if the private sector can come up with ideas which improve the cinema by including it in the scheme for regenerating that part of Hebden Bridge. If they can't, then it will have to stay as it is. If they can, then any proposal will have to be carefully examined by the Council to make sure that it fits in with what is best for Hebden Bridge. If we don't even ask for ideas then the chance to improve the cinema will be lost for the foreseeable future".

Jane Brown


From Stewart Brown
9th July 1999

"Although it wasn't a 'Bad Day at Black Rock' we've only won a battle not the war" was the response of Cllr Stewart Brown ( Lab. Calder Valley ) after Monday's meeting of Calderdale Council's 'Cabinet' which stopped plans that might have led to the demolition of the Hebden Bridge Picture House.

The victory however was only achieved on the casting vote of Council Leader Michael Higgins in the face of opposition from the Liberal Democrat and Conservative and opposition. Local Liberal Democrat Councillor Michael Taylor abstained after originally voting for the proposal when it was first mooted. Under the new Cabinet system at Calderdale the decision can be questioned by a Scrutiny Committee at the request of two councillors from two different parties. The Scrutiny Committee could then ask the Cabinet to reverse the decision.

Cllr Brown said: "I can't thank people enough for the support I've had in my campaign to save our 'Cinema Paradiso'. I have been inundated with offers of help from all quarters - for example Ann Cryer MP remembered visits to the cinema with her late husband Bob and came over from Keighley to pledge her support - and although I would not like to name individuals the response of people associated with the Arts Festival, local businesses, the Ground Floor Project, the Trades Club, the Nutclough House Hotel and the former 'Friends of Hebden Bridge Picture House' in particular has been magnificent."

Having just survived one attack another is on the cards for next week as the Cabinet on Calderdale Council are to look at the future of the cinema again in a secret report presented to them by the Director of Leisure Services. The report is thought to recommend that Calderdale Council should stop subsidising the cinema and "externalise" its operation. This is in spite of the fact that the cinema has won plaudits from the British Film Institute for being a prime example of how an amenity cinema can best be run. The cinema is continuing to improve its performance and has nearly doubled its income in the last couple of years - it actually made a profit in 1997 - and attendances have gone up from 26000 in 1996 to nearly 37000 last year. This was partly in response to more innovative programming which saw the number of films shown increase from 57 to 153 in the same period. There has also been more community use by the local Film Society, the Arts Festival, schools, the Junior Band and the Light Opera Society and special live performances by the likes of Rolf Harris and Al Stewart.

"Although my political beliefs are in favour of public ownership I am beginning to think that the future of the cinema might lie in it being owned by the community in some form of trust, at least we would then be able to stop it appearing on Calderdale's agenda every couple of years and it's future would be secured" said Cllr Brown who is still pursuing efforts to get the cinema building 'listed' and has enlisted the help of local resident Peter Thornborrow the historic buildings expert from the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service.

Stewart Brown

From Bob Packwood

When I speak of "Our" Picture House I mean of course that which is within the bounds of Hebden Bridge and which is therefore of course of most importance to those who live in Hebden Bridge. It has become part of our heritage.

I am all in favour of improvement, development, evolution, and change for the better. Why should we locals not want all of these to happen to "Our" Picture House?

Many invaluable edifices have originated by enterprise and/or by "Public Subscription" - many older buildings were "silver trowelled" by the politician of the time who, having established his fortune in wool or cotton, slipped a few quid into the project to ensure his name went onto the stone of a memorable and lasting monument. Magnificent gesture - we are all properly grateful.

Unfortunately not many people these days, private or politician, have that good fortune to bestow. Public development, improvement, etcetera, now is by the will of the politicians with the tax of the public. And the politicians will say: "You voted for us.......".

Yes we did. But nothing gainsays us raising our voices when we think our vote is being wrongly used.

I have heralded so far both evolution and heritage. Who amongst us would not? Both can, and must, exist side by side. Yet Hebden Bridge has lost over the last 40 years countless inimitable rows of small houses (no, not redundant, improvement for most of them would have been every bit as possible as is improvement for any remaining barn in the district, and at a price and situation far more relevant to local newly-weds). Hebden Bridge has lost dozens of mills ("dark satanic", out-lasted their usefulness, you say: but what of Bridge Mill? Walkley's? - arguments for and against, but they are the stuff of Hebden Bridge). How much more of our heritage can we be expected to allow to be consigned to death?

Perhaps we could consider for a moment the Piece Hall. Would not demolition and replacement with large numbers of low-cost houses or work units be worthy of the political gesture - and applauded by those of Halifax looking for such homes? Perhaps consider the Wainhouse Tower - if any building has outlived it's purpose surely this is one.

Admittedly the Picture House cannot compete in age; but of it's time and purpose it is as valuable in history as either the Hall or the Tower. Certainly as memorable as the Coliseum or Victoria. And it's among the few items we in Hebden Bridge have left.

It is very noticeable that after 60? 70? years of trying the provision of a swimming pool for Hebden Bridge has been met with little or no help. There is of course a pool in Halifax (and sometimes one in Todmorden) we hear them cry. Must Hebden Bridge folk think themselves lucky there's such good public transport! Could be so, if we were offered a discount to cover our travel. But why should we pay a premium to enjoy what Halifax has as a right, and at the same time justify the existence of the Halifax Pool by our patronage? And is the removal of a large local venue such as the Picture House intended to increase use of the Victoria?

I have taken no account as to the ownership of these various edifices. Should a location be thought by the Council to be desirable for a particular purpose, Calderdale Council will find the cash. So came into being the Marina. Perhaps not a bad thing. Trinity Garage was no beauty. But it did have as one of it's structures what I understand was an original canal wharf building. Canal enthusiasts would probably be more pleased today to be inside an improved original wooden canal building watching information videos than they would to be in a foreshortened concrete block version of the Picture House. I think Calderdale lost their way long ago with some of these improvements.

Yes, let us in Hebden Bridge have our improvements. But not at the expense of our heritage. Allow the Picture House to be consigned to death now, and which building will the Councillors of 2100 demolish or adapt to provide "A Picture House Remembrance Information Centre" ?

I shall not be available to attend the lobby meeting. Please feel free to use my arguments should you find them to be of any worth.

Bob Packwood


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