Titchfield Festival Theatre planning inquiry: Venue says village will suffer and jobs will be lost if its bid to stay open fails

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A Hampshire theatre described as a cornerstone of the community has argued that if it is shut down, the village would suffer – including jobs being lost.

The public inquiry into Titchfield Festival Theatre is taking place at the Fareham Borough Council Chamber over the next three to four days as the venue makes a last-ditch attempt to avoid closure. It comes after the council issued an enforcement notice against the charity which it said opened a 450-seat Arden Theatre venue without planning permission – something the theatre had argued it does not need.

Barrister Megan Thomas KC heads the team for the appellant, artistic director Kevin Fraser of the theatre, and said if the community theatre closes down, it would deprive the village of its ‘centre of vitality’ and the jobs it created. She said the rest of the theatre complex needed the Arden to function and pointed to the cultural and economic importance, with Shakespeare believed to have lived in Titchfield for a time.

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The government-appointed planning inspector Nancy Thomas will decide on whether Titchfield Festival Theatre can carry on using the largest of its three spaces which Fareham Borough Council said was built without permission – but Mr Fraser insists it wasn’t.

Titchfield Festival TheatreTitchfield Festival Theatre
Titchfield Festival Theatre

The first day saw the public gallery packed with more than 20 people who heard the inspector will consider if the theatre is in a suitable location, the impact of the theatre on the location, the effect on living conditions on neighbours and residents, parking and noise. She will decide if the theatre should be dismantled and the excavation space filled in or may be reduced to a 331-seat theatre as the appellant proposes as an alternative to closure. The theatre has also proposed limiting the number of performances at the Arden to 102 per year, 242 across the whole venue of theatres and giving the council control over the theatre’s performance schedule.

Some grounds of agreement have been reached by the two parties, namely that the space had been operating as a theatre for ten years from 2010 to 2020. But while the council agreed there was planning permission, the two sides disagreed on the fact that once the theatre merged two spaces and expanded the footprint, the new space lost its planning permission.

The inspector also she must also decide if Kevin Fraser’s development was ‘intentionally unauthorised’, knew and did the work anyhow, breaching planning and what weight she would give that in any decision. If the appeal to the enforcement order to close the theatre is upheld and the Arden Theatre dismantled, she will decide on what the appellant can lawfully do. If it is dismantled, the council proposes to allow seven months to do this but would not accept the nine that the theatre wants. The council is also seeking costs against the theatre.

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Four interested parties had signed up to speak with a further two coming forward during the meeting, there was one objector and five in support. Frances Baskerville representing the residents in St Margaret’s Lane raised three issues, parking, effluent from a temporary toilet leaking into the pond and canal and noise levels from the venue which she ‘cynically‘ believes have been managed temporarily and will show no lasting improvement.

Steve Clark, chair of a youth theatre that recently performed Les Miserables at Arden Theatre said it cost £30,000 to put on that production – the theatre and its 400-seat capacity meant they could put on a production and recoup costs. Other venues like the new Fareham Live, with its 800-seat capacity, would be too big and too expensive for a community theatre group. David Clarke, 75 said Kevin Fraser showed him how to adapt his book into a play that he went on to perform in prisons.

Orchestra Manager Tammy Hadden of South Coast Symphonia praised the theatre for providing employment for musicians and for giving 14-year-olds the opportunity to play with experienced musicians. She said: “Those kids can’t get those experiences sitting alongside those professionals. It’s very powerful for 14-year-olds, that is where they get their passion from.”

Keith Scott, Lower Swanwick said: “TFT (Titchfield Festival Theatre) produces a wide variety of productions at very affordable prices. I do feel Fareham Live is seeking to quell any possible competition by not allowing TFT to carry on.”

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Another interested party, Sassy Harvey, 39 and of Funtley, runs Titchfield Festival Youth Theatre which has 450 students from 18 months to 19 years who attend weekly classes. After the opening statements during representations, she said: “They help foster self-development, self-esteem, teamwork and collaboration skills amongst young peers. [The theatre] is the cornerstone of the community.”

The inquiry timetable and documents can be found here for the appeal (APP/A1720/C/23/3336046)..

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