Sunday, 17 December 2017

Theatre chief attacks council over opposition to illuminated sign

THE head of the Kenton Theatre in Henley has criticised town councillors for not supporting its plans for a new

THE head of the Kenton Theatre in Henley has criticised town councillors for not supporting its plans for a new illuminated sign.

Ed Simons, chairman of the trustees, says he is “disappointed” that the council has repeatedly called off meetings to discuss the aluminium sign designed to attract visitors to the New Street theatre.

The theatre says the burgundy sign would be “tasteful” but councillors recommended the planning application should be refused, saying the sign would have “an adverse effect” on neighbours by lighting up the street.

Mr Simons, an entrepreneur and film director, says the council should be supporting its local theatre.

“This year between 30,000 and 40,000 people will be visiting the theatre and 2,500 people watched our pantomime,” he said. “Do they want to drive the theatre out of the town? It’s just ridiculous.

“I think the Kenton is a significant asset to the town. Yes, there are lots of assets in the town but the Kenton costs the council not a penny — in fact, we pay rates so we are a contributor.”

Mr Simons said he was telephoned by a councillor after the council’s planning committee decided to recommend refusal, offering to meet to discuss the application.

He said: “I was told that they wanted to work with me in seeing how they could support the application. I said I was willing to work through it with the council but since then I have heard absolutely zip.

“On three occasions we tried to arrange meetings and on two of them there was a reason why they couldn’t meet.

“On the third occasion it snowed so Wendy Bowsher, our managing director, walked from her house in St Andrew’s Road to make the meeting but they didn’t even bother to make the effort.

“I was very annoyed because it shows a complete lack of respect. If this is them working with us I’d hate to see what it would be like if they were working against us. If they make the effort to say ‘we want to meet with you’ they should do that, not just disappear into the twilight.”

Mr Simons says the council is unrealistic to suggest the sign should be made of natural materials.

“This is the 21st century, you can’t make a sign out of wood,” he said. “It’s a very nice, elegant sign, brilliantly crafted and it deserves a place on the theatre.

“The Kenton is a voluntary charity organisation, not a commercial enterprise, and it’s run to provide a wonderful entertainment facility in Henley.

“But it makes the volunteers and trustees less inclined to work as hard as they do when the local council just rejects it for the sake of rejecting.”

Several residents of New Street objected to the sign on grounds of light pollution but Mr Simons says the theatre would agree a limit on the power of the light.

He said: “I understand the neighbours’ concerns and we will do everything we can to ensure it isn’t a nuisance because we pride ourselves on being good neighbours. There are two pubs in the street and both of them have signs and both of them have lights attached to them.

“The Kenton is a theatre and it should be signposted as well.We need to be seen as a theatre. We try to market it and advertise and send emails and brochures but the fact is there are a lot of people who don’t know we are there and therefore we need a sign.”

The theatre has received support from the Theatres Trust and Mark Brewer, a conservation and design planning officer with South Oxfordshire District Council.

Mr Brewer says that although the sign is large, it is of a size expected for a commercial building and suggests the sign “adds diversity to the street scene and reinforces diversity within the town centre”.

He adds: “I consider the design has been undertaken to fit in with the existing branding and is in a dark colour befitting the status and appearance of the property as a whole.” He suggests the sign could be moved slightly in order to alleviate the immediate neighbour’s concerns. Mr Simons said he had also received the support of several estate agents who said the theatre was an asset that helped them to sell houses.

The Henley Society recommends the sign is halved in size and care should be made to ensure that it conforms to the guidance of the shop front design guide.

Dieter Hinke, chairman of the town council’s planning committee, said he was unaware of any councillors agreeing to meet the theatre trustees.

He said: “We are very happy to speak to any one of our applicants. Henley is a small town and we should all work together. Sometimes it is better to have conversations before the application is submitted but I promote collaborative efforts rather than an ‘us against them’ approach.”

Town clerk Mike Kennedy said Mr Simons could have come to a council meeting to address members.

The district council will decide whether to approve the application next week.

“I think the Kenton is a significant asset to the town. Yes, there are lots of assets in the town but the Kenton costs the council not a penny — in fact, we pay rates so we are a contributor.”

Mr Simons said he was telephoned by a councillor after the council’s planning committee decided to recommend refusal, offering to meet to discuss the application.

He said: “I was told that they wanted to work with me in seeing how they could support the application. I said I was willing to work through it with the council but since then I have heard absolutely zip.

“On three occasions we tried to arrange meetings and on two of them there was a reason why they couldn’t meet.

“On the third occasion it snowed so Wendy Bowsher, our managing director, walked from her house in St Andrew’s Road to make the meeting but they didn’t even bother to make the effort.

“I was very annoyed because it shows a complete lack of respect. If this is them working with us I’d hate to see what it would be like if they were working against us. If they make the effort to say ‘we want to meet with you’ they should do that, not just disappear into the twilight.”

Mr Simons says the council is unrealistic to suggest the sign should be made of natural materials.

“This is the 21st century, you can’t make a sign out of wood,” he said. “It’s a very nice, elegant sign, brilliantly crafted and it deserves a place on the theatre.

“The Kenton is a voluntary charity organisation, not a commercial enterprise, and it’s run to provide a wonderful entertainment facility in Henley.

“But it makes the volunteers and trustees less inclined to work as hard as they do when the local council just rejects it for the sake of rejecting.”

Several residents of New Street objected to the sign on grounds of light pollution but Mr Simons says the theatre would agree a limit on the power of the light.

He said: “I understand the neighbours’ concerns and we will do everything we can to ensure it isn’t a nuisance because we pride ourselves on being good neighbours. There are two pubs in the street and both of them have signs and both of them have lights attached to them.

“The Kenton is a theatre and it should be signposted as well.We need to be seen as a theatre. We try to market it and advertise and send emails and brochures but the fact is there are a lot of people who don’t know we are there and therefore we need a sign.”

The theatre has received support from the Theatres Trust and Mark Brewer, a conservation and design planning officer with South Oxfordshire District Council.

Mr Brewer says that although the sign is large, it is of a size expected for a commercial building and suggests the sign “adds diversity to the street scene and reinforces diversity within the town centre”.

He adds: “I consider the design has been undertaken to fit in with the existing branding and is in a dark colour befitting the status and appearance of the property as a whole.” He suggests the sign could be moved slightly in order to alleviate the immediate neighbour’s concerns. Mr Simons said he had also received the support of several estate agents who said the theatre was an asset that helped them to sell houses.

The Henley Society recommends the sign is halved in size and care should be made to ensure that it conforms to the guidance of the shop front design guide.

Dieter Hinke, chairman of the town council’s planning committee, said he was unaware of any councillors agreeing to meet the theatre trustees.

He said: “We are very happy to speak to any one of our applicants. Henley is a small town and we should all work together. Sometimes it is better to have conversations before the application is submitted but I promote collaborative efforts rather than an ‘us against them’ approach.”

Town clerk Mike Kennedy said Mr Simons could have come to a council meeting to address members.

The district council will decide whether to approve the application next week.

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