ABC Savoy Luton: Council rejects church conversion plans

The former ABC cinema on George Street, Luton
The former ABC cinema on George Street, Luton

Plans to partially convert an iconic art deco cinema into a church have been rejected, the Luton News can confirm.

Last month we revealed that a Luton Borough Council had received a planning application to refurbish the front section of the ABC cinema in George Street, Luton– which would have been sublet to a pentecostal church.

Applicants Fenton Property Management indicated that the old cinema’s screens would have been left untouched and sealed off from the rest of the building.

However council planning officers turned down the plans yesterday, telling the developers that the site is unsuitable for a church.

A council spokesperson said: “The introduction of a place of worship use within this part of the primary shopping frontage would neither facilitate nor enhance the council’s aspirations for the regeneration of the town as an effective and diverse sub-regional centre.

“It is considered that the granting of a temporary consent for use of the site for a place of worship would not facilitate the redevelopment of this prominent site within the central shopping area as the predominant activities of a use of this kind would take place outside the core shopping and leisure times and therefore it fails to contribute to the regeneration of the town centre in the short term.”

> Designed by William R Glen, the building opened its doors for the first time on October 17 1938 as a 1,892 seater cinema known then as The Savoy.

It was the first cinema in the area to show a 3D film in 1953 and the first in South Beds to install Cinemascope and stereophonic sound.

In 1961, the venue changed its name to ABC before closing for around five months in 1971 when it was converted into a three-screen cinema.

1987 saw the cinema change its name to the Canon cinema - before changing back to the ABC in 1996.

The Galaxy Centre’s opening in 1998 was the final nail in the coffin– just two years later on November 23 2000 the venue screened its last film.

Since its closure the cinema has lain dormant despite the efforts of community groups formed to return the building to its former glory.