Sunday, 22 October 2017

MP steps into row over theatre’s illuminated sign

JOHN HOWELL has stepped into the row over the Kenton Theatre’s plans for an illuminated sign.

JOHN HOWELL has stepped into the row over the Kenton Theatre’s plans for an illuminated sign.

The Henley MP claims council officers have been reluctant to negotiate a possible compromise with the trustees of the New Street venue but this has been denied.

The trustees have applied to South Oxfordshire District Council for a 3.7m x 60cm burgundy aluminium sign to be placed above the canopy, supported by decorative brackets in the same colour.

The town council and heritage campaigners opposed the plan but the theatre has obtained more than 800 signatures on a petition and has won the backing of a number of celebrities and peers. The final decision will be made by members of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee following a site visit next month.

Mr Howell wrote to the council’s head of planning Adrian Duffield accusing officers of refusing to negotiate with the theatre.

The MP told the Standard: “I don’t think there are overriding problems in relation to this but what the management at the theatre wanted to do was sit down and negotiate with the district council and they were being prevented from doing this.

“I think it’s important to have the sign and this is a prime example of where the council shouldn’t be seen as tucking its head in massive bureaucracy.”

Mr Duffield replied: “We are most willing to strike a compromise. I would prefer to be recommending an approval than where we are currently.”

He said the council had received “strong” objections from the town council as well as further objections from the Henley Society and local residents.

Initially, it received one response in support of the sign from the Theatres Trust and then more support shortly before the last planning committee meeting, where the issue was postponed.

Mr Duffield said he “fully acknowledged” the importance of the Kenton, adding: “My officers have sought to negotiate with the applicants in a positive and proactive manner to try to reach a compromise in relation to the size of the proposed signage.

“This would significantly help to reduce the visual impact but still satisfy the needs of the theatre and their business.

“Unfortunately, the agent for the theatre has not to date been prepared to submit a reduced size of the sign to an acceptable degree, thus the application for the original proposed sign has been recommended for refusal.”

Mark Brewer, a district council conservation officer, says the application should be accepted because of the “exceptional circumstances”.

He said: “Far from eroding the importance of the usual signage guidance, I consider that this unique premises adds diversity to the street scene and reinforces diversity within the town centre.”

Suzanne Malcolm, the council’s shared economic development manager, said the theatre was an important community and visitor attraction that supported other businesses.

She said: “In the current fragile economic climate it is important that we support such businesses to help them survive.

“The theatre is run by volunteers and receives no external funding, therefore it is important that they can generate footfall and attract visitors to the theatre to maintain its important presence in the town.

“The location of the theatre among a primarily residential area means that it is ‘off the beaten track’ and therefore difficult to find and as such does not attract much passing trade.”

* What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standrad, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@henley standard.co.uk

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