Chichester Festival Theatre plans get green light

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Ambitious multi-million pound plans to transform Chichester’s world-famous Festival Theatre ready for the 21st century have won unanimous approval.

The scheme will involve the demolition of all the post-1962 extensions while the original hexagonal auditorium and foyer will be kept and refurbished.

New-build foyer side extensions are planned, plus a new back-of-house extension. Outside, a new piazza and service yard will be built.

The plans were given the green light by Chichester District Council’s southern area development control committee who also gave permission for listed building consent as the theatre is Grade II listed.

Recommending approval, planning officers said the scheme successfully addressed the structural and functional shortcomings of the existing building, and would provide the community with a theatre for the future.

Alan Finch, representing the theatre, said: “This is the right project at the right time at the right price.”

Cllr Tony Dignum, representing the local area, said: “We can all be assured that we have an excellent design here.”

Cllr David Myers said: “This is a major asset to the district, and we are very fortunate in having such a go-ahead project before us. It gets my full support.”

And Cllr Michael Woolley added: “This is an extremely exciting project which will contribute considerably to our economic well-being.”

There was no objection from the city council, Chichester Conservation Area Advisory Committee, or English Heritage while the plans have won the backing of the Theatres Trust.

Councillors were told an objection from West Sussex County Council on the grounds the scheme failed to demonstrate connections to a nearby cycle network had now been withdrawn. A major fund-raising drive is now planned, with Arts Council support expected after financial backing was promised by both the county and district authorities.

The district council has agreed to invest £500,000 in the project while West Sussex County Council will be providing £1.5 million. The cash comes from capital funds which can only be spent on buildings and facilities, not on day-to-day running costs of local services.

In a statement CDC said: “By investing in the Festival Theatre’s project the district and county council are also supporting its application for new capital funds from Arts Council England (ACE). Without this contribution, the application to ACE will not be considered.”

The district’s cabinet member for economy Cllr Myles Cullen said: “Not only will this directly and indirectly support around 350 local full-time equivalent jobs, but it will help to maintain the theatre’s position as a leading international venue.

“We believe this project will have a lasting economic impact. The theatre is already a key part of the local tourism offer, attracting £12.5m to the local economy in 2009/10. This project will help us to build on this success and encourage even more people to visit our beautiful district.”