Plans to create new city centre bar in historic former cinema win go-ahead

Former Walkabout nightspot in North Road, Durham City. Picture: Google
Former Walkabout nightspot in North Road, Durham City. Picture: Google

A historic former cinema site is set for a new lease of life as a pub and nightclub after winning a premises licence.

In recent years, the old building in 13-15 North Road in Durham City became a Australian-themed pub Walkabout and then a Chinese buffet.

Following closure in 2013, the towering venue has remained vacant.

Earlier this year, Northumberland Taverns Ltd submitted an application for a premises licence in plans to open its doors once again.

This included the sale of alcohol between 9am-2am seven days a week, films, recorded music, dance and late night refreshment.

During consultation, Durham Constabulary withdrew its objections after amendments were made to late hours.

However, opposition from City of Durham Parish Council and Neville Street resident, Brendan McKeon, triggered a special licensing hearing to decide the application.

Councillors were told the venue can hold up to 800 people, with objectors raising fears large numbers of clubbers could cause noise disruption when spilling out into streets in the early hours.

Parish councillor, Roger Cornwell, described this as “unacceptable” and called for the application be refused or for extra conditions to be added – including limiting the numbers allowed into premises.

“The applicant has said what they’re proposing is very similar to what happened in the past when this operated as a Walkabout,” he told the Statutory Licensing Sub-Committee yesterday. (April 9.)

“That was something like ten years ago and there has been a welcome move in Durham City to convert empty floors into flats, almost entirely let to students.

“It does mean there are now a lot of flats very close to the premises.”

Parish councillor, Victoria Ashfield, added she had spoken to students in North Road and agreed to support their rights to a “comfortable life while they’re studying in Durham”.

She said while they appreciated living in the centre of Durham, they faced noise disruption and didn’t feel they had a right to complain as “temporary residents”.

She added: “In the past, we have wanted to protect residents against students but now that most of the residents are students we’re cognisant that most of them want to work hard while they’re here and make sure that their money is well-spent on their fees.”

However, no formal  objections were submitted at the hearing from students in the area.

The building originally opened as the Regal Cinema in March 1934 with a capacity of 1,000 plus and operated  under various owners before shutting its doors.

Later uses included a bar and live music venue before being taken over by applicant Lee Smurthwaite when it became a Chinese buffet, the meeting heard.

Mr Smurthwaite, of Northumberland Taverns Ltd, confirmed that adjacent venue ‘Loft’ was planning to close as part of a move to the new building.

He said he had had received no complaints from neighbours about existing venues, including the Loft.

And the move to the new venue, he explained, would see no changes to hours, ownership, management, security and policies.

Following a request by Durham Constabulary, the applicant withdrew a bid to sell alcohol up to 4am on 15 occasions per year.

Durham County Council’s Environmental Health Authority withdrew their initial objection after the applicant proposed “noise control measures.”

And licensing rules around young people aged 16 or 17 being allowed to consume beer, wine or cider (purchased by an adult) when having a table meal will not be operated at the premises.

Tim Robson, of TJR Licensing, representing the applicant, said the building was “made to contain the breakout of noise and a large number of people”.

Plans for the venue included opening as a pub in the day and club in evenings aimed at students.

He said:“I have no issues regarding the numbers, it’s better that they’re inside in a safe environment than knocking on doors and waiting in queues such as in other parts of the city centre.”

Councillors were told a noise strategy would see extra staff training and monitoring to encourage patrons walking home from the venue to “keep the noise down.”

And a written representation from a seven-bed student home in North Road next to the Loft was submitted by the applicant raising no concerns about noise levels.

Mr Robson added larger issues in Durham involve students having private parties rather than travelling home at night.

Following discussion, the Statutory Licensing Sub-Committee agreed to grant the licence.

The planned venue shift is also subject to planning permission from Durham County Council.

Parish councillor, Roger Cornwell, speaking after the meeting, said he was “disappointed” that the committee failed to add extra conditions to the licence.

“A lot of it was on the promise that everything will be ok and we will be keeping an eye on it if it doesn’t work out,” he said.

“We have well-founded fears and if they come to fruition then everybody can take the matter back to the licensing committee.”

Agreed hours include

Supply of alcohol on the premises: 9am-2am, Monday to Sunday

Regulated entertainment: 9am-2.30am, Monday to Sunday (live music up until midnight)

Late night refreshment: 11pm-2.30am