Cambridge Arts Picturehouse: the Competition Commission has got it wrong!

8 October, 2013 16 Comments

The future of the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge is now in serious doubt, after the Competition Commission ruled yesterday that Cineworld, who bought the Picturehouse chain in 2012, now have too great a share of the Cambridge cinema market.

Along with many others I wrote to the Competition Commission ahead of their decision to press the case that the Arts Picturehouse and Cineworld cater to different audiences and are in fact not in direct competition with each other. I have now written to the Business Secretary Vince Cable MP to underline this point.

To be frank, I start to wonder what the value of the Competition Commission is. In Cambridge we have two big problems with monopoly – Stagecoach’s control of the buses, and Tesco’s control of the supermarkets. My predecessor, David Howarth, worked with local residents in the Mill Road area to fight against the opening of a Tesco shop on Mill Road. At that time Tesco had over 50% of the groceries sector in Cambridge sown up. Since then, Tesco have opened more shops, and that figure has risen still further.

And yet, on these issues the Competition Commission has been silent. Bus fares in Cambridge are vastly higher than those in London because of Stagecoach’s monopoly. For many local people there is no alternative in walking distance to Tesco for their weekly shop. But the Competition Commission has done nothing.

But on the Picturehouse issue, where no one has complained, and the great majority of the public would like things to remain as they are, the Commission chooses to intervene and put the future of the Arts Picturehouse, and by default the acclaimed Cambridge Film Festival, in doubt.

I have started a petition to tell the Competition Commission to crack down on supermarkets and not cinemas. The petition can be found online here.

Along with the staff at the Arts Picturehouse and the thousands of people who have signed the petition against the closure, I will continue to fight against this decision.

Leave a comment

  • Barry Shapiro: October 8, 2013 5:17 pm

    Thanks for your continuing support for the Picturehouse cinema. I am unsure about your petition joining the issue together with that of buses and supermarkets however and therefore don’t feel inclined to sign. Buses I have no knowledge of the issue, have Stagecoach created an unnatural monopoly ? With supermarkets, it is not clear to me that any individual supermarket has a monopoly in the city (e.g. Tesco), supermarkets certainly seem dominant over local shops, but it is generally the case in all retail outlets that corporates are dominant over locals. I find this undesirable but I don’t see a specific route forward to be pursued.

  • Anthony Day: October 8, 2013 9:29 pm

    I agree with Julian Huppert MP above petition

  • Helen Martino: October 9, 2013 6:32 am

    I agree with the premise of this petition. I have already boycotted tesco stores as the numbers of tesco shops mounts with nothing done to stop it and protect the many small buisnesses Cambridge used to support and treasure.
    Why the completion commission should spend time and money on investigating cinemas in Cambridge is beyond me.. The picturehouse may be under the ownership of cine world but it’s programme and customer base are quite different from that of cine world. its community involvement in education and the provision of facilities to groups involved in film and of course the hosting of the annual film festival where many international films are able to be seen are not covered by either of the other cinemas..
    As an older person the picturehouse is a social centre where many of us meet and see and discuss films.
    Picturehouse is in the centre of town and is the only cinema that is accessible to me by public transport
    Please stop wasting time, money and energy on dismantling our Cambridge Picturehouse which is a real asset and concentrate on the other things that really do create monopolies.

  • Julia: October 9, 2013 8:29 am

    Stagecoach *do* have competition. From cycles, cars, taxis, and Shanks’ Pony.

    Quite frankly, the thought of on-road bus competition in such a cramped, congested town centre (as seen in Oxford in the early post-deregulation period) is horrific. Cambridge clearly isn’t large enough to support two operators with comprehensive networks, we don’t want two operators cherry-picking only the most profitable parts of town leaving the rest unserved, and this government has set its face against the scenario of multiple companies cooperating with each other.

  • Roland Warren: October 9, 2013 12:03 pm

    Whilst sharing ownership the picturehouse and cineworld are such different entities it’s ridiculous to force Cambridge to have one or the other. I’ve never been to cineworld and greatly enjoy the presence of the arts in Cambridge, to lose it would be a blow to Cambridge offering a diverse selection of entertainment.

  • Isabelle McNeill: October 9, 2013 2:53 pm

    I signed the petition, as I fully believe the Competition Commission should put their energies elsewhere. However I would just add that I’m not sure competition works for buses: prices and system in Oxford where they have competition are a nightmare!

  • lucinda sparrow: October 9, 2013 2:53 pm

    When the Cineworld chain bought up the Picturehouse chain they promised to keep the cinema as it was, realizing that they had bought a group that were different, but the same – ie showing films. We all know that seeing a film at the Picturehouse is completely diffferent to seeing one at any of the other cinemas in Cambridge – different and better: more comfortable, warmer or cooler depending on the time of year, having a bar where you can hang out and discuss the film, having good food/drink/ice cream etc at a good price, having staff that know the films, and hosting one of the country’s major film festivals as well as other magnificent things that the cinema does for Cambridge. Any old major chain can buy up the Cineworld cinema – and it would be just the same – just as it was before. I am not so sure that there is another group like the Picture house group to take over these cinemas – I am sorry for Bury St Edmunds as well – as they too deserve somewhere nice to go !

  • Elsa Strietman: October 9, 2013 3:34 pm

    I could not agree more: the Stagecoach and Tesco control of our city and its environment is frightening and achieved, as far as I can see, by undemocratic means.

  • Simon Redfern: October 10, 2013 8:42 am

    Almost 14,000 people have signed another petition here: and yet the competition commission seem to be oblivious to Cambridge cinema goers views on this. I wonder if the best approach would be for all 14,000 or more to e-mail the Chief Executive of the Competition Commission directly,David Saunders. I am guessing that his e-mail is something like [email protected]

  • Tony Cartwright: October 11, 2013 11:55 am

    Oh the middle classes, always whinging and petitioning, if you want to save it so much why don’t you just club together and buy it?

  • Paul: October 11, 2013 6:23 pm

    I view the competition commission decision as either plain stupid or poorly researched/informed, for reasons well articulated by others (different products & consumers). Allying to supermarkets and buses is a significant strategic error, these issues are far less clear cut in my opinion. I wish you would not connect these issues, it reduces your supporters and credibility.

    For what it’s worth Julia (above) makes good points about buses, competition is not a panacea here, and for supermarkets people will continue to choose the closest until there is an unfeasible density of all of them. It’s not clear to me what the what the solution is for supermarket competition.

    Regretfully, I can’t sign.

  • Jo: October 12, 2013 1:19 pm

    The picturehouse is a unique cinema offering in Cambridge. I, along with many of my friends and colleagues regularly frequent this establishment while never having been to other mainstream cinema houses. Why? Because the picture house offers something completely different: independent films, director/actor Q and As, the film festival, and a wonderful bar/cafe/restaurant where you can enjoy a glass of wine while viewing also. Cineworld is worlds apart in content and customer base.

  • Hugh Hunt: October 13, 2013 9:29 pm

    I’ve not been to Tesco in ages, nor have I taken a Stagecoach bus in a long time. But I regularly visit the PictureHouse (as I did the Arts Cinema before, and way back when it was on Market Passage). I don’t see why anyone would actively want to get rid of it, so why should we lose it by accident?

  • keith: November 6, 2013 12:55 pm

    As a businessman working in London and living in Cambridge, I wonder if the possibility of the Arts being sold off as a going concern has been looked at. It clearly looks a success – and if the numbers add up why couldnt it be sold to a local entrepreneur/collective to carry on in its current guise. The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted (with just one screen) is seemingly a success story of independent progressive cinema – and the success of The Cambridge Arts seems unequivocally proven already. I may be naive but surely its better for Cineworld to sell it as going concern rather than close it.

  • John Lawrence Aspden: November 8, 2013 4:33 pm

    I’d really like to sign a petition in favour of our lovely cinema but I resent you trying to hijack the issue and turn it into some sort of crusade against Tesco.

  • Juliet Palmer: November 12, 2013 11:57 am

    It will be an extremely sad day, if we do end up losing the Arts Picture House for so many reasons. :-(

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