Monday, 21 August 2017

Theatre chief confident of winning appeal over sign snub

THE chairman of the Kenton Theatre trustees is confident of overturning a decision to refuse the installation of an illuminated

THE chairman of the Kenton Theatre trustees is confident of overturning a decision to refuse the installation of an illuminated sign.

Last week, South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee rejected an application from the Henley theatre for a 3.7m x 60cm burgundy aluminium sign to be placed above the canopy.

Ed Simons said he was “very angry” at the limited time he had to present his case to the committee and claimed councillors ignored their own conservation officer, who had supported the plan due to the “exceptional circumstances”.

“We lost the first round but the battle goes on,” said Mr Simons. “This is a sign, not someone dying of famine in Africa, and I don’t know why they would be so against it.

“I’m very angry about it. I don’t believe the council is doing its job and is certainly not reflecting the wishes of the people. There’s overwhelming support in Henley for a sign.”

The trustees obtained the signatures of more than 1,000 people, including celebrities and peers, in a petition supporting the theatre’s plans.

Mr Simons said: “Everyone conveniently forgets that but I don’t think the appeal panel will. I think they will say it’s a proper sign and should be erected.”

Eight councillors voted against the proposal because they felt it could set a precedent and “open the floodgates” for similar applications from businesses in the town while two voted in favour.

Henley Town Council had recommended refusal and three neighbours objected.

Mr Simons said he felt the proceedings were unfair because he and Kenton managing director Wendy Bowsher were given five minutes to speak between them, while six parties opposing the application were allocated five minutes each.

He said: “That meeting was the most one-sided kangaroo court I’ve ever had the misfortune to attend. I always thought councillors represented their electorate. We had 1,000 people voting for us and three people against us — that clearly shows the view of the people in Henley.”

The trustees will base their appeal on the reports by the conservation officer as well as a highways officer and a health and safety officer.

Mr Simons said: “We believe it’s a cast-iron case to allow us to have the sign.”

Town councillor Lorraine Hillier said many of the signatures on the petition had been provided on the basis that the Kenton said it received no funding when the town council provided a £10,000 grant to help it buy the freehold of the premises and the district council had provided funding for a disabled toilet.

Mr Simons said these were one-off capital payments and the theatre received no revenue funding. He added: “People signed the petition based on it being an application for a sign.”

Some councillors said they believed advertising wasn’t crucial because the Kenton already has 40,000 visitors each year.

But Mr Simons said: “It’s a theatre and its purpose is to attract people to attend. We don’t take handouts or receive public revenue and it needs to survive on being commercial.

“We rely on people attending the theatre, buying tickets, soft drinks, beer and coffee. The only way for it to survive is through the hard work of a substantial amount of volunteers.

“If we should be satisfied with 40,000 people then I’m not. Council tax, heating costs and other expenditure goes up and we need to attract more people. We do that by having a sign.”

A district council spokesman said the committee considered all aspects of the case officer’s report and the comments of the conservation officer.

“Prior to the meeting planning officers had offered, on a number of occasions, to work with the theatre to amend the application in a way that could have made it suitable for recommendation.

“Unfortunately the theatre didn’t wish to make any changes. The application as submitted was clearly against policy and officers therefore recommended refusal.”

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