Banbury’s historic Grand Theatre could be lost to development if the community does not rally to save it according to the chairman of Banbury Civic Society.
Rob Kinchin-Smith is calling for the people of Banbury – and beyond – to work together to raise the funds needed to bring the theatre back into use.
A new planning application has been submitted to Cherwell District Council to demolish the theatre’s 500-seat auditorium, leaving behind the facade, and build three retail units and 14 flats.
The application supersedes previous planning consent for two retail units, two mews houses and six flats. The change in application is believed to be in a bid to increase the site’s attractiveness to potential buyers. The property was up for sale for £800,000.
Mr Kinchin-Smith said cash to bring the theatre back to its former glory would need to come from grant funding, which could potentially be matched by the public through crowdfunding websites.
“It is a matter of the community reaching out and asking for it. Other towns have done a similar thing, not least Chipping Norton. There are many theatres and cinemas across the country which have been saved by the community coming forward and talking to grant bodies. Can Banbury do the same?”
He added with Banbury growing in size, it needed a larger entertainments venue.
“There is a lot of talent in Banbury including people with business skills and legal skills,” he said. “If you look outside of Banbury, there are lots of people with the skills to make a go of a project like this.”
He has launched a Facebook page – which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/207486189614081/ – to stimulate debate and to see what interest there is in reinstating the theatre.
“Hopefully, this application will galvanise the community in ways it hasn’t been galvanised before apart from for the Save the Horton campaign.
“I believe in Banbury and Banbury people and I don’t believe we cannot do this. We just need to pull our socks up and stop waiting for someone else to to it.”
His Facebook post on the Banburyshire Info page calling for people to show interest in saving the theatre, has received 300 likes.
He hopes the appeal will lead to the creation of a ‘core’ group of people to drive the project forward and actively seek funding.
The planning applications has also met with concern from The Theatres Trust, a society set up to promote the protection of theatres in the UK.
In a letter to planners at CDC, Ross Anthony, the trust’s planning advisor, said: “The proposal does not provide full justification for the potential loss of a community and cultural facility.
“The loss of a building that could potentially be used by the community as a cultural facility would be contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and we strongly recommend a community needs study is required to justify this.”