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West End venues to be exempt from controversial planning law

West End theatres... under threat? Photo: Alex Brenner West End theatres... under threat? Photo: Alex Brenner
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Theatres in the West End have been saved from new planning legislation that had threatened to bring them into conflict with nearby residents, after local councils were granted exemptions from the change in law.

Westminster City Council and Camden Council are among the 17 local authorities in England that have been successful in their application for exemption from the new development rights that will allow landlords to convert offices to homes without gaining planning permission.

It was warned that the legislation, which comes into effect on May 30, would have had “potentially serious consequences” for theatres, which in the past have had to curtail their operations due to noise complaints from new residents living close by.

It is understood that performance venues falling within the exempt boroughs’ ‘central activities zones’ – the economic core of an area – will continue to be able to object to planning applications from landlords who wish to change offices to homes.

However, landlords with properties in areas without an exemption will have the automatic right to convert.

National advisory body the Theatres Trust has welcomed the council exemptions affecting the West End. Despite this, it has warned that because only six councils outside of London have been granted exemptions, many regional theatres will receive an increasing number of complaints from local residents because landlords will be motivated to change the use of their buildings to achieve higher rents.

The Theatres Trust has criticised the governmentfor failing to provide enough time for councils to compile exemption applications that refer to the effect on entertainment venues.

Oliver Goodwin, a trustee of the Theatres Trust, said: “The government pushed forward this law for change of use and gave six weeks for councils to submit a full economic case.

“Authorities had, in reality, precious little time to consider and produce these. I wouldn’t criticise authorities for not having looked at all the issues [including the effect on theatres] on this occasion. I would criticise the coalition government for pushing this through with great haste and not giving authorities a proper chance to consult and respond.”

Goodwin added: “This is good for the West End, but outside of this area in the major cities and smaller towns that have theatres where there aren’t exemptions it presents a risk that there is going to be housing next to theatres and – as we’ve seen before – objections from new residents that will put a limit on the activities of theatres, and may in some cases stop them from operating on certain days.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government declined to comment.

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