Former Plymouth Arts Center building to be auctioned after council flats plan

A large part of the former Grade II listed Plymouth Arts Center building is to be auctioned with a guide price of over £290,000 just a month after councilors announced it would be turned into apartments.

Clive Emson Land and Property Auctioneers will put the empty four-story pile at 38 Looe Street under the hammer on March 23, 2022.

This is just weeks after Plymouth City Council’s planning committee rejected a proposal to convert the building into an 11-bed HMO (multiple occupancy home).

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Advisors were concerned about room sizes, parking issues, lack of outdoor space and whether demand could lead to the property becoming an AirBnB or being used for short-term vacation rentals .

An agent for the claimant had denied there was any possibility of the building being used as an AirBnB, at the meeting, and said it had not been sold before and was in need of expensive repairs.

Now a new owner is sought for the vacant four-storey property on the Barbican. The building comprises a basement, a commercial area on the ground floor with a bar as well as offices, an open-plan gallery and offices above.

Its second floor includes a bedroom, a living room, a shower room and WC, a kitchen and an office with two attic rooms above.

Auction house Clive Emson, which is auctioning off the freehold, said the building could still be turned into apartments if planners could be persuaded.

Auction appraiser Tom Lowe said: ‘This Barbican property is well known as part of the old Plymouth Arts Centre. It has many access points and there is clear potential for subdivision into residential units, subject to the necessary permissions.

The merchant’s house style building dates from the 18th century and was gifted to the people of Plymouth by the famous politician Nancy Astor, initially to house United Services clubs and activities.

It became the Plymouth Arts Center in 1947, one of seven arts centers established across the country with funds from the new Arts Council of Great Britain. There were galleries, a 61-seat cinema, artists’ studios, a café and a bar.

In June 2017, the Arts Center Board learned that Arts Council England would end its financial support the following year.

However, it had a record year in 2017, with nearly 18,000 admissions for 135 films shown in its hall. It has hosted live film events, a film festival and talks from internationally renowned filmmakers such as director Ben Wheatley and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins.

But the board decided to sell the building, and Plymouth College of Art gave the center cinema a new home. The Arts Center closed in December 2018.

The arts center board said it had to sell the Looe Street building as the resources were not in place to continue offering both the film and visual arts programme. The administrators therefore made the “reluctant and inevitable decision” to shut down the visual arts program.

Business Live’s South West business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the whole region.

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The center was then split, with 37 Looe Street being sold to a couple and refurbished, and 32 and 33 Batter Street also split. Number 38 Looe Street was sold to a developer and sustainable refill store Jar became a ground floor tenant on a short-term lease. He has since moved.

In 2021 the application for the apartments, initially 12 but later reduced to 11, was submitted by Through the Woods Architectural Services on behalf of Peterborough-based KT Development Group Ltd, who were apparently keen to buy the building . But plans to turn the entire building into apartments were rejected, with the committee citing reasons relating to impacts on amenities of neighboring properties and a lack of outdoor space for future residents.

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