How we used planning policy to help Wallingford Corn Exchange.
The Grade II listed Corn Exchange in Wallingford was built as a meeting hall, concert hall and theatre, and was bought and converted to full community theatre use in the mid-70s by the volunteer-run Sinodun Players.
Theatres Trust became involved at the end of 2017 when the Corn Exchange contacted us over concerns about plans submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council for a neighbouring residential development. With a shared party wall, the development would have put the theatre at risk of noise complaints from future residents, which could at the very least limit the theatre’s operation and at most have a devastating effect on its long-term viability, forcing its closure.
Our advice was two-fold. Using the recently adopted Agent of Change principle, we highlighted that responsibility for the avoidance of noise fell to the neighbouring development, rather than the existing venue. We also emphasised points from the National Planning Policy Framework set to safeguard and promote cultural activities and historically significant venues, placing responsibility with the council to ensure the theatre was not unduly affected.
The theatre was able to use the specific planning and policy information to clearly argue the case for refusal of plans. We reiterated these comments when submitting our formal planning response and in letters to local councillors making them aware of the theatre.
Through multiple planning application resubmissions, our strong objection rooted in planning policy added weight to the campaign and in September 2019 the council unanimously voted to refuse the neighbouring development.
The applicant submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate to overturn the refusal. The appeal, delayed by coronavirus, was taken to Public Inquiry in November 2020.
Theatres Trust submitted a detailed written statement and spoke at the Public Inquiry alongside the Corn Exchange and its users, highlighting the development’s impact on the viability of the Corn Exchange and the vitality of the wider town centre should the venue be forced to close.
In January 2021 the Inspector, agreeing with our concerns, dismissed the appeal.
A welcome relief for the Corn Exchange, the ruling also sets an important precedent for Agent of Change in safeguarding other theatres and cultural venues threatened by neighbouring developments.