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Theatre group’s dramatic victory in planning battle

An amateur dramatics group has defied the odds to win planning permission to convert its premises into three houses. The council’s planning committee ignored its own officers’ recommendations and voted to allow the Herne Bay Musical Theatre Company to develop its Arkley Road site. Existing building described as resembling a “builder’s yard” will now be replaced by two semi-detached houses and a detached two-bedroom home. Group director Nick Bosworth had given an impassioned speech to councillors telling them “we are close to the point where we will have to close”. He told the committee on Tuesday:

“Planning will fund relocation and allow the society to relocate and continue.”

Mr Bosworth described how in 2010 the group had applied for planning permission for change of use to allow them to hire out the single-storey building to other clubs for function evenings. On that occasion the planning committee had also ignored its officers’ recommendations and voted to refuse the change of use. Mr Bosworth said the limitations meant the group had been unable to find other tenants or buyers for the site in its current form.

“As we only had permission to use the building as a rehearsal room nobody wants it,”

he said. Despite the group’s difflculties in generating funding from the site, Canterbury City Council’s planning officers had recommended refusal of the latest application for conversion to residential use. Officers referred to the local plan which, they said, endorsed the preservation of local community facilities wherever possible. Instead, they said, the group should continue to seek others to take on the site. But Conservative councillor Ian Thomas, of Chestfield and Swalecliffe ward, proposed a motion to ignore their officers’ recommendations. Ashley Clark, councillor for Whitstable’s Gorrell ward and a Tory colleague of Cllr Thomas’s, agreed, saying it would be “ridiculous” to refuse the application.

“These people are opera singers, not accountants,”

he said. Only Nick Eden-Green, Lib Dem councillor for Canterbury’s Wincheap ward, spoke in support of the officers’ recommendation to refuse, saying the “spirit” of local plan policy was to preserve local amenities.

“We have policies in place that we should not ride over roughshod,”

he said. But Tory councillor Neil Baker, of Tankerton ward, appeared to have the final word, saying;

“Perhaps the spirit of the policy is in supporting community groups, not venues.”

Mr Bosworth said afterwards he was “amazed” and “relieved” at the outcome. Asked where the group planned to move to, he said:

“We’re not quite sure. Because the committee had recommended refusal we hadn’t really progressed on that front. We need to get a valuation on this site then we can start to look.”

The operatic group’s next production will be Our House, at The Bay Theatre at Herne Bay High School on April 8.

Herne Bay Gazette, January 8th 2015

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