Too much being crammed into revamped Alnwick Playhouse, says town council

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Concerns have been raised over key services being squeezed into a revamped Alnwick Playhouse, leading to an objection from the town council.

The formal application for the refurbishment of the much-loved arts venue was lodged with the county council last month.

It follows a deal being struck for the county council to buy the building and then grant a new 50-year lease to Alnwick District Playhouse Trust to enable it to continue to operate the theatre, studio, bar and an expanded café facility.

The county council will use the remaining part of the ground floor to provide a library, tourist information and customer service facilities.

But Alnwick Town Council is worried about the limited space allocated for the library and tourist information centre (TIC) and, as a result, has lodged a formal objection to the proposals.

In its submission, the town council does explain that it ‘is supportive of the proposed community hub and the refurbishment of the Playhouse.

‘In particular, the new plans for the auditorium, café, toilets and improved access are seen as positive’.

But it is the county-council services and the space allocated that is of concern.

The library, in particular, does need a new home as the current building, on Green Batt, is being sold and the county council’s lease comes to an end in October 2020, although there are also break clauses which can be activated each April by either party.

Alnwick Town Council’s objection concludes: ‘Overall, the town council feels that relocating two of the three services into the community hub may well work, but the three services identified in the layout proposed will not have the necessary space required to deliver effective services.

‘Options suggested could be to use the available space for the library and the TIC, or alternatively, for the library and customer services.’

The town council also said it was ‘disappointed that there was no consultation with the community’.

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “The council has been moving to a model where its customer-facing services are provided out of a single location where feasible and Alnwick is the latest main town to move to a consolidated front-office hub.

“We appreciate that the space is very tight, but elements of these plans are flexible and nothing is set in stone.

“However, we were conscious of the need of the Playhouse Trust, which fully supports this initiative, to retain the studio on the ground floor and also expand its food offering in the café area, which will be a key source of income generation for it and help underpin its sustainability.

“Alnwick Town Council has been engaged in this process from the start and has been kept informed throughout. The detail is in the planning application and there is plenty of opportunity for anybody to respond to this.”

The county council plans to spend £2.5million on the project, with the Playhouse aiming to raise another £800,000. It would start this summer with completion due in May 2019. It will require the Playhouse to close for almost a year.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service