Plans to knock down an empty Mecca Bingo hall and replace it with student flats are to be considered again by councillors – but debate about whether it constitutes a valuable community facility rages on.
And a planning company has been criticised for suggesting that the area is already blessed with a nearby community venue – in the form of York Cemetery.
The proposal to turn the building in Fishergate, which previously home to the Rialto Cinema and Ballroom and famously hosted The Beatles in 1963, was deferred by a planning committee in December.
Olympian Homes, working with the owners of the site Grantside and North Star, want to build a 276-bed student accommodation block.
The developers say they have addressed issues raised by councillors around deliveries by moving the main entrance to Blue Bridge Lane, revising the amount and location of accessible rooms and including extra bicycle parking in the latest proposals.
Several councillors asked whether a bingo hall should be granted the same sort of protection in planning guidelines as community venues such as libraries, pubs and village halls.
Councillor Pete Kilbane said in December: “The bingo hall is clearly a cultural facility, if not institution.
“It may not be high culture but it is the culture of many and that needs protecting.”
Bingo ‘not essential’
In a document submitted to the council, DPP Planning argue: “The use of the existing site as a bingo hall is not essential to the day-to-day- needs of the local community and therefore should not be classed as a community facility.
“This is supported by the fact that no community events or regular meetings were held in the building before it closed for March 202 lockdown and subsequently never reopened.”
DPP said there were pubs, parks and community spaces within 500m of the bingo hall.
“These uses include the Barbican Centre, a reading cafe and York Cemetery as places that the local community can use,” they added.
A resident living nearby said in a statement to the council that York Cemetery did not constitute a community venue.
She added: “This is completely preposterous. Unless someone has died and you are burying them or you are visiting a deceased relative then the community do not arrange to meet in the cemetery.
“I would suggest that the space would make a great local community centre space with a café and library, or a local community sports facility with a swimming pool since there is a lack of this kind of facility nearby.”
Pool or gym
Council officers do not believe a bingo hall meets the criteria and are recommending the application for approval.
But ward councillor Dave Taylor said the building had had many different uses over the years and could be used as a swimming pool or gym.
He said: “While I have no specific desire for bingo to continue on the site if Mecca wishes to close its operation, I most certainly contend that this site should be retained for a leisure use…which would benefit the local community.”
George Downes from Olympian Homes said: “Since the planning committee in December our design team has been working very hard to address the feedback from councillors and the plans have now been significantly changed and have improved as a result of this.
“We would like to thank councillors for their input and hope that they will recognise these changes and approve the plans when they go back to committee so we can invest in York and regenerate this important vacant brownfield site.”
A planning committee will consider the application on Thursday (Feburary 3).