St Albans Abbey Theatre condemns new leisure centre proposals

PUBLISHED: 15:51 01 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 May 2010

An artist's impression of the proposed leaisure centre in ralation to the Abbey Theatre

An artist's impression of the proposed leaisure centre in ralation to the Abbey Theatre

PRESENT productions and future plans at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans could be severely blighted if a new Westminster Lodge sports centre is built in front of the facility. The theatre, occupied by the drama group the Company of Ten and let out for other

PRESENT productions and future plans at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans could be severely blighted if a new Westminster Lodge sports centre is built in front of the facility.

The theatre, occupied by the drama group the Company of Ten and let out for other productions, has been concerned about the implications of the proposals since plans for the new Westminster Lodge abutting Holywell Hill were revealed.

Although there have been meetings with the district council over the impact of the project on the theatre, the Abbey Theatre Trust believes its suggestions to alleviate some of the problems have been ignored.

As a result the trust has put in a formal objection to the planning application for Westminster Lodge raising what chairman Paul Davidson describes as "serious concerns" it has about the impact.

In the short term, the building work would cause severe inconvenience to theatre members and their audiences which would leave the Abbey Theatre hidden behind a large building site and subjected to disruption, noise, dust and mud.

Car parking would be complicated and at some distance away which would cause severe problems for elderly and disabled patrons.

Mr Davidson has also raised the issue of the new service road proposed to run behind the theatre on land leased by the trust which is currently used for parking and deliveries including large items of scenery. He said the trust had offered practical suggestions to enable the two buildings to use the area in partnership but they had been ignored. The trust is also critical of the size and impracticality of a "performance space" to be included in the piazza linking Westminster Lodge with the Abbey Theatre.

Looking to the future, Mr Davidson said that the design proposals effectively surrounded the Abbey Theatre on all four sides which severely constrained any expansion plans the trust might have for the future.

He added: "We are perfectly happy to work with the council and sort these things out. We are not saying you can't build this leisure centre here but there are ways in which it and the landscaping could be redesigned to better accommodate our needs and those of our audiences."

A spokesperson for the district council said they believed the new Westminster Lodge development presented "a tremendous opportunity" for the Abbey Theatre which would benefit from the proposed bistro/café in the new centre for pre- and post-theatre dining and the public piazza and performance area.

She went on: "The council is also ensuring that the current leisure facility remains open throughout the entire building stage of the new leisure facility so we also hope to minimise disruption to the theatre."

The council maintains that there is a "huge opportunity" for the theatre to reconfigure its building and is offering land for that purpose.

The spokesperson added: "All in all, the council is going to considerable lengths to consult with the theatre and we are currently in negotiations with them on a few remaining issues which we hope to conclude in a positive way for all concerned.

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