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Wetherspoon admits Penrith pub interest - but will not confirm specific site

Pub chain J D Wetherspoon has admitted it is interested in opening a bar in Penrith – but refused to be drawn on speculation linking it with the Lonsdale Cinema site.

Penrith cinema photo
Penrith’s Alhambra cinema

Related: Cumbrian cinema to shut after landlords come up with new use for building

Related: Campaign launched to keep at-risk Cumbrian cinema open

Related: Movie star Richard E Grant backs bid to save Cumbrian cinema

Related: Protesters to march over proposal to shut Cumbrian cinema

Last week it emerged the town’s 100-year-old picture house will close in March, prompting a major campaign to save it.

More than 250 protesters have now signed up to take to the streets of Penrith tomorrow to rally local support.

The owner of the cinema building, Graves (Cumberland) Ltd, is bringing the lease to an end, leaving Lonsdale bosses with no choice but to close it down.

Rumours are now circulating that a major pub company could take over the cinema and neighbouring bingo hall.

National chain J D Wetherspoon, known for transforming iconic old buildings in towns and cities across the UK, has been among those linked to the building.

A company spokesman said although Penrith is a desirable target, he could not comment on a specific site.

“Wetherspoon’s have enjoyed great success in Cumbria, including Carlisle, Workington and Whitehaven, and are keen to open other businesses in the region.

“Penrith would certainly be a town that we are interested in but we wouldn’t comment on particular sites,” he added.

However many locals have signed a petition opposing the cinema closure and any plans to turn it into a pub.

To date more than 3,400 people have added their names to the online petition and almost 800 have joined the group on social networking site Facebook. They will leave the Lonsdale Cinema – better known locally as the Alhambra – at 2pm and head through the town centre to the George Hotel.

Campaigners argue that audience numbers have doubled at the two-screen cinema, highlighting the need for such a leisure facility in the town.

Lonsdale boss Alan Towers, who also has cinemas in Keswick and Annan, has admitted he wants to keep it open – but said his landlords have other plans.

He explained he signed a 10-year lease on the building five years ago, but it had a five-year break clause, when either party could pull out.

Graves (Cumberland) Ltd has now acted on that.

It said the decision was taken with “sincere regret”. They decided to sell the neighbouring bingo hall, which it also owns, because it had sustained losses over the last three years.

However, to ensure the property as a whole remained a viable business rental opportunity, it had no choice but to end its lease with the cinema as well.

Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart said: “One of the sad things about modern life is the continual closure of local cinemas, shops, post offices and clinics in favour of larger things further and further away from people.

"We are fighting to regenerate the centre of Penrith and to make sure there are reasons to come. Things like a cinema are a very important part of that.”

Have your say

We can't wait for Wetherspoons to open a pub in Penrith, a town we visit fairly regularly. Keen prices and a superb range of real ale, many from local brewers. Supporters of CAMRA. Bring it on!

Posted by Mike Blackstone on 31 January 2011 at 08:46

have been to this great little cinema. I don't know Alan but I know many who do and he has done a great job of that and the other cinemas. WE have seen the same happe to so many other cinemas throughout the country were landlords sell out to the likes of Weatherspoons, who are all so eager to jump on anyone who offers them a cinema building so they can cram as many people as possible in to drinking beer and creating massive profits for them. I have Weatherspoons!!! My advise is for your supporters to lobby your local planners and make sure they never pass planning permission for the cinema to be turned into a pub cause if the owners want to sell this for big bucks to WEatherspoons they will do. Your only hope is to lobby your council at the same time as trying to do your community buy-out.

The same thing happened to the Savoy in Heaton Moor. the owner wanted to sell it to the BArracuda group and I think Weatherspoons but the community objected strongly and the council put a block on it. Thankfully the cinema is still running and open today. Best of luck.

Posted by jonkino on 29 January 2011 at 17:31

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