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Council plan to save ex-cinema for Gosport community

GOSPORT BOROUGH COUNCIL could turn a historic former ex-cinema into a new, multi-purpose cinema, theatre and live music venue, saving it from being knocked down or turned into flats.

Next week, councillors will decide whether to go ahead with a plan to buy the Criterion, in Forton Road, Gosport. The council would restore the building so it can re-open as a multi-purpose entertainment space, offering films, theatre shows and live music.

The Criterion opened in 1912 and was run as a cinema and theatre until 1968. It became a bingo hall, and closed in 2020.

The current owner is believed to have been planning to demolish the building and put flats on the site but has been in talks with the council on a possible sale.

A decision on whether to go ahead will be taken by councillors on the Policy and Organisation Board on Wednesday, September 28. In May, the board decided to list the building as an asset of community value.

Council Leader Councillor Peter Chegwyn said: “At the moment there’s no cinema, theatre or dedicated live music venue left in Gosport for the benefit of the whole community. We see this as a bold move that could transform this situation, while preserving an important part of the borough’s heritage.

“We’ve found savings in the council’s capital programme that would enable us to buy the building without having to borrow money or put up council tax.”

And Councillor Julie Westerby, who chairs the council’s Community and Environment Board, said: “The Criterion was a busy, friendly, inclusive place. It would be exciting to do something ambitious and new with it and provide an important hub for the area.”

The council would apply for grants to help with the cost of the project. A new community venue could be open in two years.

PICTURED: The former Criterion cinema building at Crossways, Gosport, after it was used as a bingo hall. Copyright, Ken Roe