Picture House Wetherspoons plan sparks anger

The Picture House will be a Wetherspoons. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The Picture House will be a Wetherspoons. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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PLANS to turn one of the Capital’s top music venues into a superpub have been approved – sparking criticism the move will be a cultural and health “disaster”.

The application from pub giant Wetherspoon will see the former Picture House in Lothian Road become one of the city’s largest bars, hosting around 770 drinkers.

Campaigners, health representatives and political figures have blasted the approval as “galling” amid a dwindling number of major performance spaces and fears over the availability of alcohol.

Councillors yesterday voted 6-4 in favour of the revamp, with Councillor Eric Milligan, city licensing chief, abstaining.

The development comes after objectors fighting the plan won a “stay of execution” in January, when councillors said they would carry out a site visit and gather additional evidence from police and environmental health officers.

Murray Ross, a campaigner for Save the Picture House, said: “We’re gutted. We held out a lot of hope that the council would see sense.

“This is a complete disaster for entertainment and live music. The Picture House is a venue which Edinburgh desperately needs.”

Leaders at Alcohol Focus Scotland said they were worried about a major drinking spot opening near Tollcross.

Barbara O’Donnell, acting chief executive, said: “In the Tollcross area there are 285 alcohol outlets within a ten-minute walk and the licensing board has designated the area of ‘serious, special concern’ with regards to alcohol problems.

“We know that the more available alcohol is in an area, the more alcohol-related harm there will be.”

One of Edinburgh’s landmark music venues, the Picture House played host to some of the world’s biggest pop and rock names over five decades.

David Bowie, Queen, Status Quo, Genesis, AC/DC and The Smiths are among acts to have performed there when it was known as the Caley Palais in the 1970s and 80s.

More recently, the venue has played host to the likes of Travis and One Direction.

Political figures said approval for the Wetherspoon plan made it crucial councillors do all they can to support city musicians and bands.

Marco Biagi, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, said: “The decision is particularly galling when you consider that a nearby application by Sainsbury’s to expand alcohol sales was refused by the council on the grounds of overprovision in the local area.

“With the loss of the Picture House, music lovers in the city will expect the council to ensure that the city’s live music scene can flourish.”

In stating his support, Councillor Ian Perry, planning leader, said: “It’s really not within our power to stipulate that this should be retained as a live music venue. If there’s no legitimate reason for refusing it then we leave ourselves open to a challenge.”