Titchfield Festival Theatre: Venue makes a final bid to remain open at planning inquiry to decide its fate

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A 450-seat theatre in a Hampshire village is making a last-ditch effort to avoid one of its venues being shut down – with hopes that an independent planning inspector will say it can remain.

A government-appointed planning inspector is set to make a decision on whether Titchfield Festival Theatre can carry on using its 450-seat Arden Theatre which Fareham Borough Council said was built without permission, something the theatre has argued it does not need.

The Planning Inspectorate will kick off a three- to four-day inquiry today (Tuesday, May 14), which will decide if the venue in St Margaret’s Lane, Titchfield, can stay open. The theatre is making the last ditch attempt to stay open as it said it already had permission for the work to create the Arden theatre space but Fareham Borough Council (FBC) says it does not and was only to be used as storage and issued an enforcement notice.

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In November 2023, the council served an enforcement order to close the charity’s largest theatre space, saying: “Without the benefit of planning permission, the material change of use of the land to theatre use (sui generis); and an engineering operation to excavate and create an underground area beneath the land.”

The third, largest theatre was built without planning permission - something the venue is arguing it does not needThe third, largest theatre was built without planning permission - something the venue is arguing it does not need
The third, largest theatre was built without planning permission - something the venue is arguing it does not need

Artistic director Kevin Fraser, of the Titchfield Festival Theatre, has appealed against the enforcement notice to the Planning Inspectorate for a final decision. The inspectorate’s inquiry will hear statements from both sides including hearing the case for the appeal of the enforcement order, looking at historical planning decisions, and considering previous court judgements as listed on the inquiry timetable.

More than 160 representations have been made on the case with local residents throwing their weight behind the 450-seat theatre to stay open. One supporter said: “Titchfield community theatre is a wonderful community theatre that has allowed me to share my love of the theatre with my children. If the theatre goes, the real losers will be the community, the children and theatre lovers.”

Another said it is an ‘outrageous political or technical challenge’.

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The theatre said it helps other local community groups and another supporter, who is a member of Fareham’s Men’s Shed with a membership of 80, couldn’t find a place to meet until Kevin Fraser offered the back of the theatre.

He said: “We cater for recently bereaved gentlemen, those who are lonely and in need of male companionship, retired and feel the need to ‘keep busy’.”

An objector who owns a house on the road complains about the narrow St Margaret’s Lane where people park on white lines and the traffic congestion. They said: “The road is nothing like wide enough for this and downright dangerous.”

Another resident who lives 50 yards north of the site said that it is a lovely theatre but the lack of parking is the problem and could cause an accident. She said: “We have had road rage incidents. It is only a matter of time before there is an accident.”

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The Titchfield Festival Theatre is a multi-venue space and has three other performing spaces, The Oak, The Acorn and The Great Barn. In February this year, Fareham Borough Council granted separate permission for an alcohol licence for the two bars that serve the £1.7 million Arden theatre at the venue. Later in March 2024, Titchfield residents threw their support behind plans for a paddock opposite the venue in St Margaret’s Lane to be turned into a 97-space car park for use by theatregoers. However no decision has been made on whether or not this will be approved.

The inquiry timetable can be found here for appeal APP/A1720/C/23/3336046. It will start on Tuesday, May 14 and run to Thursday, May 16 with a fourth day as contingency.