FANS of the big screen in Aldershot have been left devastated with the news that the popular High Street cinema is to close in July.
The announcement is a severe blow for local people, who will have to travel to Camberley or Guildford from July 10 for the nearest cinema.
Although Rushmoor Council learnt some time ago of Odeon’s intention to pull out of the site, the timing of the closure has come as a shock.
Construction of the promised new cinema on the West Gate site on Wellington Avenue will not start until at least the end of this year.
Announcing the closure, a spokesman for the cinema group said: “Odeon’s lease on the building runs out at this time and, following a review of the site, it became clear the cinema is no longer commercially viable.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the customers who have visited Odeon Aldershot over the years.”
Odeon said that it would try to relocate as many of the 15 staff members as possible to nearby sites.
Cllr David Clifford, cabinet member for leisure and promotion, admitted that the council was unaware of the July move.
He said: “We are really disappointed that the company feels that it has to leave.
“This will be a relatively short interlude because we are planning to start building soon on the Wellington Avenue site. This has been designed around a cinema complex.”
Rushmoor Council regards the site of the current cinema as key to the future development of the town centre.
Last October it revealed plans for a major revamp of the site, aimed at attracting large retailers to Aldershot.
Around 60 people gave their views of the plans during a public consultation.
Two-thirds of respondents supported the relocation of the cinema, with many wanting reassurances that this would happen before the old one was demolished.
The 26% who had opposed the demolition of the cinema and Kings Centre had been concerned that these were good examples of 1930s’ architecture.
Cabinet members decided to go against the views of many residents and opted to push ahead with a shopping-led development.
The council is now discussing ways of redeveloping the site with the other owners to bring the scheme to reality.
The revamp spells the end for one of the town’s best-known landmarks.
The cinema opened in May 1937 with seating for 1,700, but closed in the late 1980s before becoming a joint bingo hall/multi-screen cinema.
Aldershot resident Catherine Pearson, 34, said she was sad to see it go: “I have been taking my children to this cinema for a very long time and I know that it is quite well used, so I am surprised they have decided to close it down.
“There is already very little in the town centre in terms of entertainment, and once the cinema goes I don’t know what we will do.”