THE much-loved Odeon cinema in Chester could remain an arts venue if a city council bid to buy the listed building is successful.

But current owner The Brook Group, which wants to convert the listed art deco building into shops, a restaurant and a bar, have so far shown little interest in selling.

The city's head of planning, Andy Farrall, confirmed Chester City Council has approached The Brook Group with a view to buying the Odeon, which is due to close in January 2008.

Although it is unlikely it would re-main a mainstream cinema, a mixeduse arts centre for film, music and theatre has been suggested.

Mr Farrall said: 'We have approached the Brook Group but they have not shown any interest in selling so far. We have considered buying it, perhaps with partners.

'A small-scale arts cinema with other performances is a possibility.'

The proposal would complement the performing arts centre planned as part of the Northgate Development.

Mr Farrell admitted the council had not put in a bid when the building was originally put on the market because the authority was unaware it was up for sale.

'The building was not put on the open market so we did not know Odeon was for sale,' he said. 'It was just marketed to people within the leisure industry.'

Mr Farrall cannot say whether this will mean the council would end up paying more for the building.

'I do not know what conditions were on the sale when The Brook Group bought it,' he said. 'A price is what

people will expect to pay, it is such a hypothetical question at this stage.'

Mr Farrall added there would be strong opposition to The Brook Group converting the building and it would be difficult, as the inside of the cinema is listed as well as the outside.

Chester MP Christine Russell, who started a petition to keep the Odeon open last year, said: 'We have few large auditoriums in the city; without the

Odeon, the only one that will be left is the cathedral. Our petition collected thousands of signatures.

'A mixed use arts centre is a great idea, a place to hold live music events and theatre performances as well as films is what the city needs, especially now the Gateway is closing.'

* No-one from The Brook Group was available for comment.