Planning permission granted for revamped Westminster Theatre

Westminster council has granted planning permission for the new scheme which will re-open the Westminster Theatre as a ‘Menier Chocolate Factory-style’ venue.

As revealed exclusively by The Stage earlier this month, theatre company London Aloft had submitted plans to run two performance spaces on site – a 350-seat main theatre and a secondary studio with room for around 260 standing, which would be used for jazz and world music gigs, as well as cabaret.

They will be run in conjunction with a 100-cover restaurant, the income from which would be used to help subsidise the venue’s artistic programme. The proposals mirror the highly successful business model of Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory, another theatre with a restaurant and one of London’s only full-time producing venues able to run without government subsidy.

While plans for the theatre space were not contentious, the property developer owner of the residential building in which they will be located had requested permission to increase the amount of space available for flats in the upper stories of the building. These proposals have now been cleared by Westminster council, meaning that the theatre scheme can now also go ahead.

The new venue is designed by leading theatre architect Tim Foster and it is hoped that the site could be up and running by mid to late 2010.

London Aloft is led by chief executive Stephen Mitchelson, with Gregory Thompson, formerly of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, lined up as artistic director. Steven Berkoff will be involved with the venue as its patron.

Westminster Theatre has been closed since 2002. Following a fire, it was demolished by its owner with the intention of turning the majority of the site into flats. However, a planning constraint meant that any redevelopment would have to include a replacement theatre, which had originally been due to be run by black theatre company Talawa.

But plans to create the UK’s first black-led theatre collapsed in 2005 when Arts Council England removed £4 million of capital funding for the project because of internal problems at Talawa. Since then, the proposals to relaunch the theatre have been in limbo.

Councillor Robert Davis, Westminster City Council’s deputy leader, said: “The loss of this theatre was a sad day for the city, but I am confident these plans will give this historic site a new lease of life as a cultural hub in the heart of Victoria. Theatre has helped shaped our city over centuries and forms the lifeblood of its cultural and entertainment offer which attracts visitors from around the world.

“The theatre industry contributes more than a £1 billion to London’s economy so it is vital we support it at every opportunity. It is testament to its enduring appeal that even in the midst of a recession we can have an exciting, new and in my opinion well-designed addition to Theatreland.”

For more on this story see next week’s print edition of The Stage.

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