Planning approval threatens Theatre at Risk Burnley Empire
Burnley Council has approved a 10-year temporary planning permission for the former front entrance and foyer of the Grade II listed Theatre at Risk Burnley Empire for use as a café. This is a huge blow to Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, the campaign group looking to restore and reopen the building, and to the future restoration of Burnley Empire.
The decision by the planning committee was contrary to the recommendation by the planning officer who had recommended a 3-year temporary permission. The Theatres Trust’s view is that any works to this section of the Empire would hamper future public access to the theatre and recommended rejection with at most a 2-year temporary permission with any alterations to the building to be constructed so that they are fully reversible and do not harm the listed fabric. It was only after much discussion with council officers that the Trust cautiously supported a temporary permission in principle to bring the foyer to use, while the longer-term future of the theatre was determined. We made it very clear that permission for a period any longer than 3-years would not only be unacceptable to us, but would likely jeopardise the opportunity to restore the theatre as an asset for Burnley.
Temporary permission of more than a few years is highly unusual, and we will be looking into how the committee's decision making led to this outcome.
The council's backing of the planning application goes against their previous support for a restoration and reuse of the Empire. As reported at the Theatres Trust's 2018 Theatres at Risk Register launch in January this year, political will and backing for this type of project is critical and without it major funders are highly unlikely to invest in a project.
The council's decision leaves Burnley Empire Theatre Trust with an enormous uphill struggle to rescue the Empire, a building which could hugely contribute to Burnley's evening and night-time economy, provide community and education use, and contribute to local job and skills creation.
It is disappointing that the council have not recognised the real potential of this building which could provide Burnley and its new student population a vibrant cultural and historical focal point of which to be proud.
Read the Theatres Trust's letter of 8 March requesting clarification from Burnley Borough Coucil.
Find out more about Theatre at Risk Burnley Empire.
Image: Burnley Empire, Eveleigh Photography