Future of Chorlton Picture House up in the air following sale
Co-op has sold the Manchester Road site to Southway Housing Trust, choosing to overlook a long-standing expression of interest from Chorlton Community Land Trust, which wanted to buy the building and create a food hall.
Chorlton CLT had hoped to turn the existing historic building – famous for having hosted the Bee Gees’ first gig in the 1950s – into an Altrincham Market-style food hall with 32 new-build apartments constructed next door.
Southway Housing Trust is in the early stages of developing its plans for the site but has confirmed it will look to deliver a mixed-use scheme with 100% affordable homes.
“Although we are still at a very early stage and do not yet have a fixed design, we will be working towards the provision of an energy-efficient, sensitive and high-quality development that will enhance this landmark site in the centre of Chorlton,” said Karen Mitchell, chief executive of Southway Housing Trust.
A spokesperson for Co-op confirmed the sale, adding that the company had “remained true to [its] principles” on the deal by finding a solution that provided value for its members and benefited the local community.
“In agreeing a sale in principle to Southway Housing Trust, we have achieved our aim of securing a partner who we believe can execute the transaction and deliver on our member and community goals,” they said.
The story so far
The future of Chorlton Picture House has been up in the air since March 2019 when the Co-op put the building up for sale.
Churchill Retirement Living was subsequently chosen as the preferred bidder for the site – formerly the Picture House and Gaumont cinema but most recently home to Co-op Funeralcare – and proposed demolishing the building and developing apartments for the over-55s.
However, in September 2019 pressure from Chorlton CLT told and the Co-op gave the group the opportunity to put forward its own bid.
Chorlton CLT then set about raising money for the acquisition through its Stayin’ Alive campaign.
In total, more than 1,200 local supporters contributed £420,000 to the effort. The group also applied to the first round of the government’s Community Ownership Fund requesting £300,000 to support the proposition.
In early 2020, Chorlton CLT was informed its attempt to acquire the site for £2.2m had been rejected in favour of Churchill’s higher offer, believed to be around £2.6m.
However, weeks later, Co-op U-turned on its earlier decision, opting to provisionally accept Chorlton CLT’s bid and give the group time to draw up detailed proposals for the site.
In February 2021, Chorlton CLT firmed up its vision in partnership with local developer Brook Finch and Calderpeel Architects and last August a formal offer was submitted to the Co-op. It is understood that the final offer was below the £2.2m originally mooted.
The group was taken by surprise when it was told Co-op had sold the site to Southway. But CCLT remains determined to play its part in shaping the future of the site.
“We are frustrated but we are ready to roll our sleeves up and get to work,” said Simon Hooton, chair of Chorlton CLT.
“Everyone we speak to is supportive [of our plans] and thinks it is something Chorlton needs. We are unwavering. I am sitting here as a resident of Chorlton wanting to make it a better place.”
While the future of the site is unclear, Hooton is adamant Chorlton CLT will do what it can to save the much-loved property that occupies it.
“We will not be supporting a plan that involves demolishing the building,” he said. Garry Finch, director of Brook Finch, feels the same.
He is keen to remain involved in the project and said the vision his company worked up with Chorlton CLT is the correct one for the site.
“We fell in love with the building. It is one of those buildings that you go into and your eyes light up. It could be a great asset to the community.”
Since taking control of the site earlier this month, Southway has sought to allay fears over the future of the site. The company said it is “committed to collaborating directly” with Chorlton CLT on its redevelopment plans.
“As a not-for-profit, community-based housing provider, we are pleased to be given the opportunity to help satisfy a desperate need for affordable housing in Chorlton,” Southway’s Mitchell said.