THE New Theatre Royal is set to return to its former glory after radical redevelopment plans were approved.
Portsmouth’s oldest playhouse will receive a £4m revamp to restore the listed building’s stage and back lot, which were destroyed by fire in 1972.
And in a £20m joint project with the University of Portsmouth, the new-look theatre will have a modern accommodation block for 110 students built above it.
The building will also gain a new Creative Learning Centre dedicated to Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella in the hope of creating a thriving ‘theatre quarter’ in the city.
After Portsmouth City Council’s planning committee approved the project – which could be completed by the summer of 2013 – theatre director Caroline Sharman said she was delighted.
‘It is great news,’ she said. ‘We can’t keep going as we are and, because of the financial situation, this could be our only window of opportunity to get this done.’
She added: ‘It has been a long-held ambition of ours to refurbish the parts of the theatre that were destroyed, and next year it will be 40 years since the fire.
‘But more than that, this is a fabulous opportunity for Portsmouth to expand its cultural identity.’
She added that the new back lot and facilities would make use of a long-derelict plot of land and improve the city centre’s image.
But the proposed design of the building did not meet with unanimous approval from councillors, who gave the plans permission despite raising concerns about its appearance.
Conservative councillor Jim Fleming said he ‘absolutely loved’ what the theatre was trying to achieve, but thought more could have been done to make its appearance more attractive.
His colleague Cllr Donna Jones agreed, describing the concept drawings of the proposed building as ‘not interesting and not attractive’.
‘It is not that different from other buildings in the city,’ she said. ‘But this one is in quite a unique location.
‘However the use of the site and the way that the theatre and university have worked together is fantastic.’
The proposals to improve the Guildhall Walk theatre also had the support of the Theatres Trust, English Heritage and the Portsmouth Society.
As part of the application the planning committee was asked to waive part of more than £220,000 worth of planning contributions, which the council requires as part of the application, to improve the profitability of the scheme.
But councillors decided that they needed more details before agreeing to that. After the hearing Mrs Sharman said: ‘To have the amount reduced would help us, but we will continue fundraising.’