Theatres Trust welcomes the revised National Planning Policy Framework

On 24 July the final version of England’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published, following public consultation.

Following our submission to the consultation, Theatres Trust is pleased references to cultural facilities and uses included in the draft version have been maintained and there are further amendments adopted in the revised frameworks which further develop the profile of theatres, the arts and culture in the planning system. The Theatres Trust particularly welcomes the adoption of the Agent of Change principle.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Theatres Trust

The NPPF sets out the Government’s overall planning policies for England, and how they expect them to be applied. Planning policies produced at more local levels must conform with the overall national framework. Revisions to the NPPF takes effect immediately.

As a statutory consultee on theatres for Planning Applications, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders the Theatres Trust plays a pro-active role at both pre-application stages and throughout the planning process. Our work in planning policy looks to ensure theatres have a voice in the planning system. Read our response to the NPPF consultation.

Agent of Change – what does it mean for theatres?

The most significant amendment to the NPPF for theatres is the formal adoption of Agent of Change as a development consideration. The Agent of Change principle places the burden of costs and mitigation on new development, rather than existing uses suffering restrictions or even closure following complaints from new neighbours.

It is useful to have this in national policy because problems and closure of facilities associated with neighbouring developments have tended to focus on London and a few other large cities. Local authorities elsewhere often lack experience in these issues and don’t have relevant policies at a local level to help prevent impacts on theatres, music venues, pubs and other noise-generating venues.

Other positive changes to strengthen theatres protection in the NPPF

  • Strengthened policy on heritage assets. This will further protect locally or statutorily listed theatre, and those subject to an application for a change of use, because it offers enhanced scope to maintain features of significance.
  • Insertion of not for profit alongside charitable and public ownership, this widens the type of organisation (theatre operator, theatre campaign group, or building preservation group) where applicants have to demonstrate there is no realistic prospect of being able to conserve a heritage asset in its existing form before proposing changes.
  • Greater promotion of local authorities using Compulsory Purchase Orders to bring vacant buildings and sites back into active use. This is significant for theatres whose owner isn’t maintaining the building appropriately, and particularly those on the Theatres at Risk list where potentially viable options for their revitalisation exist, but the owner might stand in the way.
  • Increased emphasis on the design of development especially that the NPPF seeks the quality of design to not diminish between permission and completion. This will lessen applicants returning with amended plans that reduce the standard of appearance or functionality of a scheme, and this will maintain the quality of theatre design.
  • Less emphasis on prioritising and retaining retail in town centres. This will help support new theatres and other cultural and leisure uses coming forward.

Concern over “under-utilised land and buildings”

We are disappointed that our objection to the promotion of the development of “under-utilised land and buildings” particularly for housing where land supply is constrained was not taken on board.

Any vacant property, including theatres, could be considered as under-utilised but that does not mean they are no longer required. This bears most impact on the theatres on our Theatres at Risk register. This could also undermine other parts of the NPPF and local policies which seek to protect valued community and cultural facilities.

Nevertheless, the revised NPPF remains largely positive and will strengthen the Theatres Trust’s role in supporting theatres, local authorities and local communities across the UK ensure that current and future generations have access to good quality theatre where they can be inspired by and enjoy live performance.

Read the full revised NPPF on the government's website

Find out how Theatres Trust can help you navigate the planning system and what guidance we can offer for new builds, refurbishments and capital projects