A call to arms to save Banbury’s Grand Theatre

The Grand Theatre, Banbury, is up for redevelopment. The front in Broad Street. NNL-171001-161149009
The Grand Theatre, Banbury, is up for redevelopment. The front in Broad Street. NNL-171001-161149009

A rallying call has gone out to the residents of Banbury and the surrounding communities in what could be a last ditch effort to save one of the town’s iconic landmarks.

The Grand Theatre on Broad Street, formerly Chicago Rock and Wonder Lounge, has been under threat of redevelopment for several years and there is just one week left to lodge objections to the latest planning application that may see the listed building change forever.

The planning application currently up for debate allows for 12 flats to be built on three levels, with the ground floor retained for retail space whilst maintaining only the facade of the listed building as an acknowledgement to its 100 year history.

This is the third such application for the Grand Theatre in recent years. The first, submitted in 2014, for a total of eight flats, was approved but was not a financially viable.

Two years later, in March of last year, in an attempt to increase the market value of the property, a more ambitious planning application was submitted increasing the number of flats from the approved eight to 14.

In order to accomplish this the rear of the building would have to swell to four storeys and would have had a significant impact on the premises in Pepper Alley. Following concerns expressed by Cherwell District Council’s conservation officer about the scale of the proposed development and over 100 public objections, that application was withdrawn.

The latest re-submission, which has addressed one of the concerns of the conservation officer by removing two flats at the rear, may signal the end of the Grand Theatre ever having the capabilities to function as a viable, living breathing venue for the performing arts, as all but its Art Deco cinema facade will remain as a reminder of its past.

Solid and resolute opposition to the plans to remodel the theatre started in earnest in March 2014 when the group Friends of the Grand was formed, quickly attracting over 3,000 members.

Headed by local civic champion Rob Kinchin-Smith,the group is urging the wider community to coalesce as one and stand to fight the cause for this historic Banbury building.

Mr Kinchin-Smith said: “This application to redevelop the building as a few flats and a retail area of limited value has to be a big wake-up call, not just to the over 3,000 supporters of the Friends of the Grand Theatre Facebook group, but to the wider community of Banbury and its surrounding villages.

“Whilst objecting to the latest planning application is an important way of showing support for The Grand, to save the building it is essential to show the building’s owners and the council’s planners that the existing building has a viable use. To do this needs strong will and an a viable alternative plan. Without both, the building will surely be lost.”

To read more about the Grand Theatre, find out how to help and view the new plans click here.