For nearly a quarter of a century, the future of Bradford’s former Odeon has been a hot topic of conversation.

The distinctive domed building, previously known as the New Victoria and Gaumont Theatre, closed in the summer of 2000, with a new Odeon multiplex cinema opening in Thornbury.

The disused building, sitting proudly on Princes Way alongside the architecturally-complementary Alhambra, was placed on the market for sale and redevelopment, and was immediately bought by a London property firm.

In 2001, the T&A reported how the structure was almost certain to be demolished and replaced with a new building that year, with the new owner expected to ask Bradford Council to give planning permission for a building with twin towers which would have included a hotel, nightclub, and bars.

However, in May 2002, the City Centre Conservation Area boundary was redrawn, incorporating the Odeon and giving the building more protection.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Odeon in 2008The Odeon in 2008 (Image: T&A)

The history of the 1930s structure took another turn in 2003 when regional development agency Yorkshire Forward bought the site for a reported £2 million.

In 2004 an initial survey by engineering consultants Arup, commissioned by Bradford Centre Regeneration (BCR), stated that the building would cost too much to renovate and it would only have a lifespan of 30 years in any case.

As a result BCR determined there were only two options - partial demolition keeping the two domes which would be incorporated into a new structure, or complete demolition and replacement of the whole building.

By February, 2005 an international competition was held to find a developer with a design for a building on the Odeon site. BCR said that no restrictions would be put on bidders and that a structural report of the building showed that retaining it was possible but not financially viable.

In June, 2005, ten companies were shortlisted out of 28 expressions of interest, and that list was whittled down to three contenders which submitted their proposals in March, 2006.

By this stage, the Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) was in full swing, even recording a song to push the cause for the building to be saved.

It was an era that would see BCR regularly taken to task over the Odeon issue, through the T&A letters pages and at public meetings.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Norman Littlewood, second from right, with founder members of BORG, from left John Pennington, Mike Bottomley, John Wilkinson and Julie LittlewoodNorman Littlewood, second from right, with founder members of BORG, from left John Pennington, Mike Bottomley, John Wilkinson and Julie Littlewood (Image: Public)

As BCR attempted to deliver a wider masterplan, comprising numerous schemes, it was the Odeon project that came to define the organisation in the eyes of a growing band of critics.

There were intense exchanges of words between BCR chief Maud Marshall and passionate campaigners, including Norman and Julie Littlewood, Mark Nicholson, John Pennington, Mike Bottomley, John Wilkinson and John Pashley, among others.

At a BCR question and answer session, BORG supporter John Tempest grilled Mrs Marshall on comments she had made some years earlier, on October 5, 2004, where she had stated that its interior was a decaying shell, decrepit and derelict. Mr Tempest pointed out that recent pictures suggested otherwise, but Mrs Marshall insisted she "never sought to mislead anybody and took a judgement based on information that we got from fairly serious engineers."

Norman Littlewood passed away last year knowing that his beloved Odeon was being restored, and having - some years earlier - made his extensive blueprints and technical info available to Lee Craven as he formulated early plans for the rebirth of the building.

Back to August 2006, and it was announced that Langtree Artisan's £55 million New Victoria Place scheme - involving the total demolition of the iconic building - had been selected as the winner of the competition. This was despite the Casa Mela scheme, which retained the towers, receiving more votes from the public during the consultation.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Visualisation of how the New Victoria Place plan might have looked

The building's fate appeared to have been sealed, but there were plenty who simply refused to give up hope.

Around a thousand protesters turned out in July, 2007 to 'Hug the Odeon' in opposition to its planned demolition.

But the strength of public feeling didn't appear to be derailing the project.

In October, Yorkshire Forward entered into a legal agreement with Langtree Artisan as the preferred developer for the site.

In March, 2008 is was revealed that English Heritage had rejected the sixth bid to grant listed status to the 1930s building stating it was not of sufficient architectural interest to warrant saving.

It was revealed in July, 2008 that Bradford businessman Nirmal Singh was behind a £3m offer to Yorkshire Forward to buy the disused Odeon building and turn it into a hotel, nightclub and concert hall.

BORG made the offer to the regional development agency, which, however, said it could not be sold, due to the development agreement. This prompted further frustration among campaigners as the war of words over the plans became increasingly bitter.

The first images of the latest plans for New Victoria Place were revealed in the Telegraph & Argus in September, 2008, sparking another round of debate.

In the coming years, the global credit crunch started to play a part when developers were considering the viability of big schemes.

It was announced in June, 2010 that regional development agencies were being scrapped, signalling uncertainty over the future ownership of the Odeon. There were calls for a rethink over plans for the building.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Norman Littlewood addressing the media about the future of the Odeon Norman Littlewood addressing the media about the future of the Odeon (Image: T&A)

Yorkshire Forward revealed in February, 2011 that it had spent £640,000 on maintenance, security, management and emergency repairs on the building during its ownership.

In July, 2011 it was announced that ownership of Yorkshire Forward assets, including the Odeon site, would transfer to the Government's Homes and Communities Agency from September.

Scaffolding went up around the building in February, 2012 to allow work to be carried out on its roof as the building was "structurally unsafe". It later emerged that asbestos would also need to be removed from within the building, costing the HCA more than £1m in total.

In May, 2012, Bradford-born artist David Hockney lent his support to the campaign to save the "splendid building". The same month campaigners unveiled their alternative plans for the Odeon - to turn it into a music venue and archive - a John Peel Centre for the North.

Bradford magician Dynamo also backed the building's restoration.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dynamo with BORG (Left to right - Matt Shaw, Dynamo, Mark Nicholson (maroon t-shirt).

The HCA signed a Section 106 legal agreement in June and passed it on to Langtree. This would give the developer valid planning permission and make the development agreement go unconditional.

On September 20, the HCA announced it was terminating the development agreement after Langtree had failed to sign the Section 106, which it said breached the terms of the original development agreement.

It was now clear that BORG had done enough to delay the demolition of the building long enough for other factors to come into play, signalling success for one of the most remarkable campaigns in Bradford's history. 

In mid-2013, it emerged that the building had been sold to Bradford Council at a peppercorn price of £1 – something campaigners said was "good news for the city".

The Council asked people with an interest in developing the former Odeon to come forward with detailed plans.

Bradford Live took up the challenge and, in 2017, a major announcement was made as Bradford Live secured the NEC Group as the venue’s future operator.

Many saw the involvement of the NEC - a highly regarded venue operator - as the icing on the cake. 

The restoration of the building has already produced some superb results, thanks to the many dedicated people involved in the scheme.

The project has come too far to be thrown off-course now, despite the concerning silence from the NEC.