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.

CCLT commitment 

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.” 

Possible collaboration 

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. 

Your Comments

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Southway will no doubt just build a bog standard affordable housing scheme, missed opportunity.

By Anonymous

I’ve lived in a chorlton for almost 55 years. I really hope Southway do the right thing and work with the CLT to save the building and transform it to give us something we can all use and be proud of. No doubt there will be plenty of flats when the precinct gets developed.

By Resident

If they knock it down and build ultra low cost ugly apartments then Chorlton will never forgive.

I say let them build taller on the adjacent plot to make it cost effective to save the old cinema building.

By Rob

Lots of flats please! The area needs homes!

By Barry Gibb

Hopefully lots of affordable houses in a notoriously unaffordable part of the city for most. If a market can be squeezed in all the better but Chorlton isn’t short of nice places to eat and drink. It is short of affordable houses.

By Great news

What a real shocker. This is a brilliant project that would help boost the Chorlton district centre which is in desperate need of extra investment and has real potential to be so much more attractive. We do need more affordable housing, but this isnt the right place, esp with the amount of homes expected in the nearby precinct development. The deal with Southway could really miss a once in a lifetime chance to use the Picturehouse building to improve the district centre and create more jobs/footfall. It’s also a community led project that would create real pride and help Chorlton take a bigger role in its future. Please Southway – embrace the vision and work with the CLT to make this happen.

By Chorlton Local

There is no reason at all that this site cannot achieve all aims. Southway, please, please come up with a plan with CLT to give us a quirky, truly Chorlton food market – and some much needed affordable housing- all retaining this iconic, historic, cultural venue.

By Mike

I really hope the existing building and it’s character can be retained however this is basically a brownfield site in a prime location for housing. It’s in the middle of the district centre, adjacent to the shops, with a bus stop across the road and the tram a couple of minutes walk away. I have never understood why the Chorlton Community Land Trust would be against housing on this site yet is pro development on Ryebank Fields which is a vital green space, has greenfield classification and is no where near as accessible a location. Good news in my opinion.

By Chorlton born and bred

I’m honestly so gutted about this. Such a blow. An Altrincham market type style venue for the local community would have boosted visitors and maintained the history of an iconic building. If this gets knocked down for flats then it would be a travesty

By Scott

Disappointed that the Cooperative chose to sell to Southway homes. Short term thinking instead of a proper scheme (Stayin Alive) that would have brought far more social benefit to the local community.

By Anonymous

There is a real need for more social and affordable housing in Chorlton and elsewhere, but this is not the only site in the area. The old Baths and part of the Irish Club car park are already underway for such homes. Demolishing a landmark building which could be a real focus for our community, plus the climate impact of wasting the embedded carbon in buildings that can be made useful, is not on. in fact the roof of the picture house is an ideal site for solar panels which could generate energy for the Picture House and surrounding buildings. See CCLTs website for our aims and ambitions for this site.

By MMargaret Manning Vice Chair CCLT

Absolute disgrace. The last thing we need is more soulless flats. Something for the community… this only proves that the Co-Op have zero values and purely sell to the highest bidder (property developer) at the expense of the community

By Tim

Very disappointing outcome for all those supporting the retention of this historic structure. Affordable homes are obviously needed in the area, but a design that incorporates public use and access to the ‘Picture House’ alongside homes would be a positive outcome for all. Step up to the challenge Southway!

By Di

Build a food hall, local house prices go up. Build apartments, local house prices go up. Get what you want, get what locals need or get what some people can just about afford – local house prices go up. There is a housing shortage.

We need balanced populations to look out for each other and not just gentrify and divide on a national scale – keep problems in mind when demanding change – such as the housing shortage – foodhalls can wait 🙂

By MikeB

This is good news. Chorlton doesn’t need an expensive and pretentious Altrincham style market. We already have the Barbican, The Unicorn and if you want to spend over a tenner on a kebab there are ample places for that as well.
More affordable homes are needed not assets that serve to increase the value of surrounding properties and make Chorlton more expensive than it already is. Everybody wants affordable housing unless it’s close to their own private property.
Ths is a win for affordable housing.

By Chorlton resident

This so deeply sad. I don’t think this would have happened under Trafford city council. All Manchester city council can ever support is the development of housing, it is short sighted (I’m also wondering if corrupt, given how often they do this- Hulme, Moss Side – all housing with no investment in local communities ) & long term will only serve to create disparity in the community as it becomes eroded of key investment & services that bring it alive.
So mis-judged. Such sad news for Chorlton but sadly not surprised- it’s another in long line of similar decisions where the local community were ignored. Trafford by contrast prefers to engage with it’s local community & it’s no coincidence Alti market has thrived in Trafford.

I don’t believe Southway will do anything other than their usual.

By A

I hope you will spare and restore the Chorlton Picture House.
People from abroad are coming to see the roots of the Bee Gees and it would be sad both for us but also for the community if we lose one of the reasons to visit Chorlton!
Please handle with care!

By Tina Møller

I can’t see how “affordable “ any homes built are going to be. Market forces in a prime location and all that? It would be great to have some kind of community space as part of the planning though…

By G

Please don’t lose the cinema building portion. Yes, affordable housing is needed but why can’t there also be something nice that adds to the area like a market

By Anonymous

Also imperative to use the historic building, not pull it down.

By R Gee

Absolutely gutting to hear that they plan to demolish the building and pack in houses. Mixed use is what’s needed here keeping the building, adding flats and shops.

By Upset

The Picture House is a historic building right in the heart of our town centre. This is not the right place for housing. This building should become a focal point of interest and commerce for all of the community to benefit from.

By NM

What a shame the Picturehouse was sold to Southway.

CLT project would have brought a great vibe to this part of Chorlton.

We can only hope that Southway listen to CLT and the Chorlton community

By Chorlton local

It is hard to remain positive and not cynical as we see another community supported scheme bulldozed and the CoOp grab the cash. Chorlton CLT has a fantastic proposition with excellent business plan that would add long term benefits of amenity and sustainability for the economy and environment of Chorlton. Let’s hope Southway can embrace this.
Chorlton obviously needs more affordable housing but it also needs a vibrant centre for business and community to focus around and avoid the drift into becoming nothing but a bland suburban commuter satellite for Manchester.
This scheme needs to link with the plans for the precinct to provide great architecture, affordable housing, community energy generation, commercial and community space and new public square on Nicolas Road. All part of Chorlton CLTs thinking.
All this is possible but it now seems most likely the Picture House will just be demolished to max out the land for as many bland apartments as possible.

By Chorlton Resident

A real shame the CLT bid didn’t succeed. However, the exciting opportunity to transform this pivotal site remains. Southway are the right kind of development company to deliver what is needed here, new affordable homes in a vibrant mixed use building. I hope Southway will work with the CLT to create something special.

By Ste Taylor

Need a decent sized music and events space in Chorlton and this building would be great if kept. Agree with Chorlton local above.

By Craig P

Remember when Co op was the working man’s supermarket with its divvy etc?
Now it’s glass towers and high prices.

By Ted

I really hope Southway do not demolish this building and work with CLT to bring it back into use. Communities need amenities as well as affordable housing. Another community asset, the Leisure centre is to be demolished for social housing. It’s a shame the city council is not supportive of developing community assets, compare to Trafford council investment in neighbouring Stretford, Sale and Altrincham

By Ben

Like many, I hope the old building is retained and dont see Southway commenting about that. They have said it will be a mixed-use scheme and they will collaborate with CLT — as others have written here, many people will remember this and not forgive any further twists and turns.

The Co-Op haven’t exactly enhanced their reputation with that meaningless statement that feels defensive & vacuous.

By AroundM21

Really sad to hear of the missed opportunity for a large central area that could add some unique aspects to our unique neighbourhood.

By Greg

I’m very disappointed, I thought the CCLT proposals would provide a good balance of housing and a new community resource and jobs, whilst preserving heritage. I hope Southway can fulfill that vision.

By Local Resident

I do hope that Southway will support the vision of the CLT and develop this site for the benefit of everyone in Chorlton. That Southway keep the picture house as a hub for the community and support closing part of Nicolas road to meke a safe market/ outdoor Cinema space. I do hope Southway will work with the CLT

By Angela Mary Downing

Come on Southway-the area needs more affordable housing but it also needs a hub for local people to use as a flexible meeting area.

By Jane Jones

For those saying Chorlton’s community assets are not important and they should be replaced by affordable housing, you do realise there are two huge social housing estates in Chorlton. What we really need is to retain and improve the assets that make Chorlton a desirable place to live. This is a great opportunity that could be sadly lost forever

By Ben

There’s something rather cruel about prioritising street food stalls for already well-housed Chorltonites over affordable housing. I really hope that CLT don’t reverse-ferret into NIMBYism and stymy the construction of desperately needed homes. There isn’t a food hall crisis, there’s a housing crisis.

By S

Such a missed opportunity – the CLT bid was obviously what the local community overwhelmingly wanted, and what the local community really needed. This is such a great site, and (was) such a great opportunity to create a focal space and genuine community asset! I guess it’s down to MCC now to not allow the demolition of the building and replacing it with a sub-standard housing scheme, at this really prominent position in Chorlton. Hopefully Southway will work with CLT in a meaningful way…not holding out much hope though !

By Anonymous

It’s great that there are plans for affordable housing but I hope Southway will work with the CLT to save the main building, which is of great character. There’s room for newbuild at the back.

By Kate Wilson

I am so disappointed. Southway housing do not seem to be interested in anything other than high density housing. We need some diversity, not huge high rise flats, and we need some diverse space that can be used as a community space. So so disappointed a wasted opportunity. Also please note that we need to prioritise social housing NOT affordable housing – that is just a sound bite that seems to be all the rage, as being OK, its not. Look at how many flats Southway are building already – families need houses, with gardens.

By Heather

Please Southway – embrace the vision and work with CLT to make a mixed use creative space happen! It will benefit the community with new jobs, affordable housing and create a nicer space for people to live in! If this building is knocked down there will be huge local opposition.

By Anonymous

I would hope that Southway do work alongside the Chorlton group as the plans and vision that they have would be a real boost to the local economy and will be a real driver for creativity which is one of the things Chorlton has always been known for and to knock down a superb architectural and historic building to be replaced by generic houses/flats would be an absolute travesty, even more so considering the links that the building has to the bee gees.

The plans by the Chorlton trust are well thought out and will have a long standing, positive impact on the whole of South Manchester and beyond for many many years and not only will it be a hub for local, independent businesses, it will also be used as a space for the young children and community.

There are opportunities to build houses/flats on the existing precinct.

I hope and trust Southway do the right thing here and work in conjunction with Chorlton trust to help create a truly wonderful area that encompasses everything and not just some eyesore housing.

By Mike K

I have lived in Chorlton for over 30 years and here is the chance to give Chorlton something a bit different and really special. Please, Southway work with CLT to give us something we can love rather than just tolerate!

By Annemarie

Vital that this site is used to help enhance the community broadly in the way the CLT set out. An Altrincham market style facility would really enhance Chorlton and I have no doubt would be a huge success. I trust the council will ensure planning permission reflects this type of facility and not rip this site down. Hope that folk make this an election topic in this coming May elections! Chorlton has so much further potential that has been talked about for years. Time to make things happen!!

By SWR

The theatre should be preserved and developed into a food hall, market place and community space, it is a historic building in the heart of Chorlton. I agree that affordable housing is important but not at the expense of Chorlton losing part of its history and identity. There are other suitable sites for housing. Could the site not be more strategically developed to complement the planned precinct development. I would suggest visiting Altrincham to see how the food hall and market area has benefitted the surrounding businesses and created a car free space that people want to spend time in.

By Anonymous

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