CONTROVERSIAL proposals to revamp Malvern Theatres have been labelled ‘a destruction of Malvern’s heritage’ by the town’s Victorian Society.
Council chiefs were set to meet at the southern area planning committee tonight (Wednesday) to discuss the plans for a new Grange Road entrance and first floor extension to provide an accessible dance and rehearsal studio and offices.
The changes would provide improved access from both a ramp and steps but lead to the loss of the building’s only remaining Victorian features – the 19th century entrance canopy, portico and first floor tower front.
It’s those changes which have sparked fury among the town’s Victorian Society which revealed it didn’t object to the theatre being redeveloped but opposed the plans because of ‘the ‘irreplaceable loss of some important historic features’.
It has called for the plans to be thrown out until the levels of harm had been adequately assessed.
The site’s original building dates back to 1885 and although the theatre is not listed itself, it is in a conservation area with several listed buildings around it including the Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael and the Council House.
A number of objections have been raised, including the new entrance ‘looking like a greenhouse’, being out of character with the area, being too bland and the destruction of Malvern’s heritage.
In a report to councillors, Malvern Hills District Council conservation officer criticised the demolition of the entrance and tower which he said would dramatically change the character of the Grange Road street scene.
Supportive comments included the proposals focusing on youth, the extra space provided and the fact it is ‘a theatre not a museum or a church’.
One comment added: “We should respect the past but not live in the past.”
The district council’s economic development manager welcomed the plans, saying the theatre already ran many weekly workshops but education classes, while popular, were limited because of the lack of space.
He added Malvern Theatres was the district’s second most-visited tourist site, attracting more than 300,000 visitors a year. The changes would generate income, bring in even more people and ensure a greater use of the building throughout the day.
Officers recommended the application for approval with a number of conditions including photographic and written record of the entrance and tower in accordance with Historic England guidelines.