Picturehouse seeks to vary planning condition for new Lambeth cinema

The West Norwood Picturehouse site earlier this year
The West Norwood Picturehouse site earlier this year

Picturehouse cinemas, the owner of Brixton’s Ritzy, is seeking to vary the terms of Lambeth council’s planning conditions for its new cinema in West Norwood.

The cinema, a joint venture between Picturehouse and the council that will also house a library, had once been due to open earlier this year.

A recently published employment tribunal decision ruled that Picturehouse had unfairly sacked two trade union reps at the Ritzy.

Workers there have been campaigning for years to be paid the London Living Wage and for other employment rights. In recent years they have been joined by workers at other London cinemas in the chain.

The application to vary the planning conditions, spotted by the Norwood Action Group, seeks to vary the planning permission granted just over two years ago to give Picturehouse and its architects longer to obtain a “BREEAM” certificate.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the world’s longest established method of assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings.

The original planning permission made occupation of the building conditional on it having a BREEAM rating of at least “very good”.

Picturehouse now want this condition to apply up to six months after occupation.

“This indicates that work and consequently certification is behind schedule,” said the Norwood Action Group (NAG).

It said the application “puts Lambeth planners in a cleft stick”.

What would happen if the change was agreed, but certification was not achieved within six months? asked NAG.

Would Lambeth council be forced to take the blame for closing its own library and a cinema recently opened in an area previously lacking one?

Either way, said NAG, it looked unlikely that the latest estimate for opening – “late summer” – would be achieved.

“Will Picturehouse ever come down from its lofty corporate approach to public relations?” asked NAG.

It made nonsense of its wish to be integrated with the community that would provide its future cash flow.


Sacked union reps (l-r)Tom McKain, Marc Cowan and Natalie Parsons outside the Ritzy in Brixton
Sacked union reps (l-r)Tom McKain, Marc Cowan and Natalie Parsons outside the Ritzy in Brixton

London Living Wage

The eventual opening will pose another problem for Lambeth council. It is proud of its record of paying its staff at least the London Living Wage and successfully encouraging its contractors to do the same.

It has contributed more than £3 million to the estimated total cost of about £6 million for the new cinema/library and in December 2014 said it had “negotiated with Picturehouse that, in line with council policy, staff employed by the Picturehouse for the West Norwood cinema would be paid the equivalent of London Living Wage”.

Picturehouse, part of the massive international corporation Cineworld, has been obdurate in its refusal to pay the London Living Wage and, until it was increased to £10.20 an hour last November, had argued that its workers were receiving something equivalent to it when breaks and other matters were added to its calculations of what it paid staff.

Bad publicity and high-profile support for a campaign to boycott Picturehouse cinemas, which the Blog supports, may have influenced the neighbouring Lewisham council when it chose Curzon cinemas, rather than Picturehouse, to run a new cinema in Ladywell. Curzon does pay the London Living Wage.