Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain

Summary

The draft NPPF is deficient in that it contains no policies on culture the arts and theatre.

The current provisions of PPS4 should be continued.

LTG member theatres have saved redundant buildings for the community and future possibilities for similar developments should be encouraged via the NPPF.

Culture in general and theatre specifically is an essential part of sustainable communities.

Specific amendments have been suggested by the Theatres Trust which we endorse.

Submission

1. The Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain (LTG) is a charitable organisation run on behalf of its member theatres to provide advice and guidance on their operations and particularly the many aspects of running a theatre. To qualify for membership of the guild the theatre owners or lessees have to be amateur and non-professional in their activities. We have a guild membership of 104 theatres within the United Kingdom, of which 100 are in England. The LTG receives no grant income, is wholly run by volunteers and is entirely supported by contributions from its membership.

2. The LTG is concerned that the draft NPPF, which is intended to provide guidance on the local operation of planning policies throughout England, contains no policies on culture, the arts and theatre. The draft advises local authorities to grant permission to development applications where the plan is absent, silent or indeterminate. We conclude therefore that it is the intention of those who have drawn up the plan that there should be no defined protection for or provision for buildings used or planned to be used for cultural and theatre purposes, and we note that the draft plan does make specific reference to sports facilities.

3. The current position is that PPS4 (Planning for Sustainable Development) specifically states that local planning authorities should “… make provision, where appropriate, for leisure, cultural and tourism activities such as cinemas, theatres, …”. We can see no reason why this stipulation should not be included in the new NPPF since, in our view, no community is sustainable without such cultural provision.

4. The Select Committee will be aware that theatres are a distinct use class in planning, and it is our view that this should not change. In particular, members of the LTG have shown that local theatres can be accommodated in many buildings that have had previous uses, and for which there would be very little viable alternative use, including conversions of redundant churches and chapels, the use of railway arches, oast houses, former civil defence buildings, engine sheds and a bus garage. These conversions have helped keep communities coherent and provide a training base in theatre arts for young people helping them to grow in confidence. It is important to us that policies are in place to sustain the local theatre movement and help it to develop.

5. As is mentioned above, we believe that culture, and particularly theatre, helps to keep communities alive and is essential to any sustainable community. We believe that the NPPF should give the same separate recognition to culture, including theatre, as the draft now gives to sports, heritage and leisure. In its report on arts and heritage the CLG Select Committee stated that “it is a mark of a civilised society that its citizens have access to arts, culture and heritage”. In its response, the Government is stated to be wholly committed to arts and culture. We would expect that commitment to be reflected in its National Planning Policy Framework.

6. The Theatres Trust has put forward a number of specific changes that should be made to the NPPF draft. We entirely support those changes and in particular, the suggested change to para. 76 bullet point 5 which should refer to “…retail, leisure and cultural proposals ….. thereby allocating a suitable number of sites for cultural uses including theatre.”

8 September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011