Volunteer run theatre in Buckley saved after planning permission granted for changing rooms
A Buckley based volunteer run theatre has been given a two-and-a-half year lifeline, with temporary planning granted for its changing rooms to remain.
Hawkesbury Little Theatre, which is 65 years old and a registered charity, had applied to Flintshire Council to renew temporary planning permission for its cabin style changing facilities.
But after a site visit for councillors ahead of the council’s planning meeting this month, planning officers still recommended denying further permission on grounds of character and appearance, and the visual impact of the cabin-style changing rooms on a listed building – Hawkesbury Hall.
This led to fears the theatre could be forced to close.
Actors change into their costumes in the portable building that joins onto the theatre, on the grounds of Hawksbury Hall next to Elfed High School off Mill Lane.
Buckley Theatre Club has performed pantomimes and plays at the Little Theatre since 1984, and this year’s Dick Whittington panto has been a sell-out.
A long-term lease from the county council was secured in 2001 with planning applications to keep the changing room cabin in place approved almost annually from 2004 to 2017.
Gill Jones, a Buckley resident spoke in support of the application, saying the theatre’s changing facilities had never been an issue for anyone in the community and that it offers opportunities to all people across Flintshire, particularly children.
She said: “There is nothing dangerous or illegal about this building, it brings more to the community than anyone can see from the outside. The residents in Buckley and across Flintshire are passionate about supporting this venue and securing its future for everyone to enjoy.”
Pete Lloyd, speaking on behalf of the theatre, said there was a significant risk that without the changing rooms and safeguards they provide, the theatre club and theatre would close.
Buckley Bistre East Cllr Richard Jones (Ind) proposed temporary consent to allow the charity time to raise funds and make the appearance of the facility acceptable, adding that the theatre is a community asset that needs protecting particularly to give children stage experience.
He said: “I fully endorse the comments by the local residents.
“The changing rooms were in place long before the residential use of the adjacent building was agreed. It would be a travesty to lose this theatre and we need to give them time to make the changes required.”
Buckley Pentrobin Cllr Mike Peers (Ind), seconded that proposal, adding that the cabins’ current place is the most suitable location for it.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about appearance and the appearance can be changed with some cladding”, he said.
Mold East Cllr Chris Bithell said he would be saddened to see the theatre close but reminded members they had to make decisions on planning merits.
He said: “We’re here as a planning committee and we need to remember that we’re discussing planning issues here.
“There’s no question whatsoever the little theatre means a great deal to the people of Buckley and it’s played a very important role in Buckley society and the county generally, doing good work with young people – that’s not in question.
“But we are dealing with planning issues here and it is in the curtilage of a listed building and we have to make decisions in safeguarding the interests of that listed building.
“There are not a lot of these (listed buildings) in Buckley or in the county for that matter, so we’ve got to really protect and preserve what we’ve got and maintain them for the future.”
Cllr Bithell also wondered whether the council had been too lenient in granting permissions in previous years, which failed to encourage the theatre to find a permanent solution.
But with guidance from planning officers, members decided to grant temporary consent for the changing facilities to remain until June 2025 to enable the theatre to resolve the issue either through gaining new facilities or improving the current one’s visual impact.
By Rory Sheehan – Local Democracy Reporter
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