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RIBA president-elect speaks out on Bristol's cinema plans

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George Ferguson has launched his first campaign as RIBA president-elect, to save Bristol's historic Whiteladies Picture House.

Ferguson has spoken out against plans to convert the Grade II-listed Art Deco cinema - designed by LaTrobe and Weston in 1921 - into a health centre.

Campaign group Keep Cinema Local is fighting the application for listed building consent by local architect Quentin Alder Architect. The group is campaigning against the use of a restrictive covenant by previous owner Odeon, which prevents the building being used again as a cinema.

Ferguson said the use of restrictive covenants was 'disgraceful', and called for listed status to be linked to a building's use. 'It's wrong that the owner can force a change from the original use of the building, ' he said. 'The reason it is listed is because it's a good example of its type.'

Campaigner Hattie Appleby added: 'It flies in the face of what listing is all about. It appears to the public that most things are pitted in the developers' favour.' More than 13,000 people had opposed the plans, she said. Appleby added that she was concerned about the government's review of the change-of-use laws as part of its Planning Green Paper. The review, to be published in the summer, could make it easier for developers to avoid having to lodge planning applications.

Bristol City Council has not yet set a date for the decision, Appleby said. 'This has been going on for over a year.'

Ferguson's call follows a pledge to give more emphasis to conservation during his presidency, and to tackle the issue of VAT on repairs of listed buildings. Ferguson told the Fifth National Conservation Conference in Bristol last Friday: 'I don't want to see conservation taking second place to new building and fashion slavery. Let's hope that the profile of conservation will be raised in the next three years.' He said he wanted to enthuse everybody at the conference 'to act as ambassadors for conservation being a catalyst for regeneration'.

In his summing up, Ferguson spoke about 'this ridiculous business of the punishment of the work on listed building by VAT'. Referring to the fact that VAT is imposed on repairs but not on alterations to listed buildings, he said: 'I think it is ludicrous, and has been for 10 to 15 years.'

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