Planning protection for theatres, concert halls and music venues

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced further details of the changes to the planning system trailed previously.

Theatres Trust Director Jon Morgan responds:

"We welcome the news of revisions to the planning system, which reinforce and increase protections for our treasured theatres and provide reassurance for the communities that use and value them. Theatres Trust has been campaigning to strengthen protections for theatre buildings in the planning system and we are pleased that the government has responded to our proposal so positively. The Covid-19 lockdown has rendered otherwise vibrant theatres vulnerable to permanent closure and we have already seen a number of theatres fall vacant due to the operator going into liquidation. These measures will help ensure these vital community assets are protected during the current crisis and can be revived to serve their local communities once again.

Under these changes the government intends to alter ‘permitted development’ rights, which allow demolition of buildings without full planning permission, so they will no longer apply to theatres, concert halls and music venues, joining pubs which have benefitted from this exemption since 2017. This change will give the local community more of a voice if a theatre is threatened and will support efforts to brings theatres back to use. The Nuffield Theatre in Southampton was until recently a vibrant theatre which has had to close due to Covid-19.  Without an operator its future remains uncertain. While the building owners have not stated any intention to redevelop the site, it is an example of a theatre building that is neither listed nor within a conservation area and could have been demolished without permission if these vital new reforms to planning had not been announced.

There will also be additional safeguards to protect otherwise viable theatres and other venues from being demolished or irreversibly converted for other uses while they are unable to reopen fully. With immediate effect, where applications for demolition or change of use of theatres are submitted for theatres temporarily closed due to Covid restrictions, planning authorities now have clear government guidance to prevent the unnecessary loss of theatres by giving due regard to these factors. Change of use under normal times should only be permitted if continued theatre use is proved unviable, but in the current theatre lockdown this is not a realistic test. Peterborough Broadway for example was recently threatened with conversion into luxury flats, but we campaigned successfully for the planning application to be refused and the theatre reopened last year as the Peterborough New Theatre, the only mid or large-scale theatre in the city". 


A Written Ministerial Statement has now been laid  along with a supporting Q&A

Photo credit: Peterborough New Theatre (formerly Peterborough Broadway) by Ian Grundy