As supermarket chain Lidl presses on with opening new stores in Liverpool it still hasn’t given up hope of opening an outlet on the site of the former Abbey Cinema in Wavertree. Tony McDonough reports
Supermarket chain Lidl is to carry out a structural survey on the former Abbey Cinema in Wavertree in south Liverpool where it has plans to open a new store.
Early last year Lidl was set to press ahead with the demolition of the building to build a new 18,000 sq ft store, creating 30 jobs. Many local residents were in favour of the scheme but heritage campaigners quickly objected.
And, in April 2021, Historic England, the public body which protects old buildings, officially recommended the landmark site for listing at Grade II level. This forced Lidl to withdraw its planning application in May and there were fears the project would be abandoned altogether.
According to Historic England the former cinema, designed by architect Sir Alfred Ernest Shennan, is “an increasingly rare example of a medium-scale 1930s ‘super cinema’ built for a small independent local chain in the heyday of cinema design and cinemagoing”. It also features in the original draft lyrics of The Beatles song In My Life.
In September Lidl told LBN it was still considering its options for the site but was concerned about the condition of the building and remained sceptical whether it could be saved and used as a store without demolition.
In the last few days Lidl has said it is “continuing to explore various options for the future of the site”. And now LBN understands the company is to carry out a full structural survey of the Abbey to inform a clearer decision.
In January the Liverpool Echo reported that work was taking place at the building but it is believed this was just the removal of shelving that had been there since it had been previously used as a supermarket some years earlier.
Lidl sees Liverpool as a fertile ground for the expansion of its budget retail offering. In January this year it opened a new outlet in Edge Lane – its 900th UK store – creating 40 jobs. And on Tuesday this week it is expected to secure planning consent for another store – a 21,500 sq ft outlet on the site of the former Coronation pub in Belle Vale.
Rob Zatz, chair of the Wavertree Society, said he and his colleagues were in regular contact with Lidl. He told LBN: “They are carrying out a structural survey and we have told them we would like to be made aware of the findings of that report.
“Most local residents support the new Lidl store. My preferred option would be to keep the building and see it house both a Lidl store and space for use by the local community. But there are various options and we will see what the survey finds. Lidl have been very open with us throughout this.”
If Lidl wants to push on with the scheme it can submit a listed building application to Liverpool City Council which could grant it permission to demolish the cinema. It may also consider selling the site.