The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

News from the North West

The former Ambassador cinema, Salford , has finally been demolished. This ends a sorry tale that revealed the apathy and small-mindedness of Salford City Council planners and saw a u-turn on the part of the DCMS that makes a mockery of the listing process.

When bingo operations at the Ambassador ceased in the mid 1990s the future of this fine building seemed uncertain. Built in 1929 in a grand mixture of Italianate and Egyptian styles, its architect was John Knight RIBA. Knight had built several other large cinemas in Manchester, and The Ambassador was the last survivor. The building was provisionally purchased in 1999 by housing developers Kelly Homes for only £150,000 and planning permission for housing on the site was granted. Local people (myself included) were outraged and formed a group, The Ambassador Project, in an attempt to save the building and convert it for much needed community use. Instead of approving demolition, Salford City Council could have taken the opportunity to purchase the building. Salford’s ongoing policy of closing cultural venues across the city had left various theatrical and musical groups homeless and The Ambassador would have provided the perfect home for them all.

However, Salford’s planners were keen to see private investment in one of the country’s poorest wards. When The Ambassador was rightly included in the thematic listing of cinemas in 1999 there seemed to be a glimmer of hope but funding and support proved difficult to find. The Ambassador unfortunately sat 50 yards the wrong side of the boundary that forms Langworthy, an area earmarked for massive government and European regeneration funding. Salford City Council showed, at best, indifference and, at worse, open hostility to the idea of saving this now Grade II listed building. Following the listing, Rank Mecca, the housing developers who still officially owned the building, employed consultants Halpern to lobby the DCMS for de-listing, thus smoothing the way for a sale.

Using their considerable resources and influence, the consultants finally succeeded and The Ambassador was de-listed in 2001. This led those attempting to save The Ambassador to ask the question: ‘when listed status is in question, are the needs of the local community and a building’s undeniable architectural worth secondary to the financial gains of the buildings owners?’ There followed another application for demolition which was again approved by Salford’s planners. With planning permission the land was now worth close to £1 million, a price way beyond the resources of local people trying to save the building. After one more change of ownership The Ambassador is now a pile of rubble and mediocre flats will follow soon. It is another lesson, after Greenside, to those who presume that getting a building listing ensures its survival.

On a more positive note, Urban Splash have been granted planning consent for their Midland Hotel plans in Morecambe. However, there is a still long way to go. There is a large jigsaw puzzle of funding to put together with Lancaster City Council, North West Development Agency and the Heritage Lottery Fund all involved.

Eddy Rhead