Controversial plans to redevelop Fairfield Halls in south London have been approved despite objections from former staff and hundreds of residents.
The £30 million planning application for Fairfield Halls and College Green in Croydon was given the go-ahead by the council on February 23 with a vote of six to four, despite concerns over the viability and cost of the scheme.
Plans for the area include a revamp of its 1,800-seat concert hall, and the demolition of a multi-storey car park to build 218 new homes, a new college, a 2,000 square-metre art gallery, new shops and office space.
However, the application received 381 objections from residents, with campaigners criticising the fact that there is no theatre operator attached to the plans, after the charity that previously ran Fairfield Halls went bust last year .
Campaigners including London Symphony Orchestra conductor Simon Rattle  and the Theatres Trust , also previously criticised the closure of Fairfield Halls for two years while work takes place , and lobbied for a phased closure which would have allowed one of the complex’s buildings to stay open at any time.
Despite this, the centre closed in July 2016, and the venue’s managing charity, Fairfield, went into administration three days later, with more than 220 staff being made redundant.
When approached by The Stage following the planning approval, the Theatres Trust declined to comment.
Campaign group Save Our Fairfield has claimed that during the planning meeting on February 23, the committee only allowed five minutes for those wanting to make a statement of objection.
Former technical manager of Fairfield Halls, Rob Callender, spoke on behalf of the campaign, highlighting concerns with the current plans.
The group’s main concerns with the plans include the encroachment of the new Croydon College on the rear of Fairfield Halls, which it argues will affect daylight into the Ashcroft Theatre dressing rooms and affect privacy.
Other objections include that access to the yard will make operations at the theatre less flexible and more awkward to manage, making the venue less attractive to large productions.
Campaigners also criticised a lack of parking, which will reduce the viability of the venue and could see a move away from family-orientated audiences and audiences who are unable to use public transport.
Kate Vennell, former Chair of Fairfield Trust, said. “These plans risk the commercial viability of the Fairfield Halls.
“They need maximum ticket sales from high audiences and great shows. Everything is absolutely optimised for the large, complex Fairfield to run without any public subsidy.”
A statement from Save Our Fairfield said: “Considering the scale of the investment and the experience of the speakers, the arrogance we have faced from Croydon Council throughout the entire process undermines the credibility of the project. If the venue were to fail following an expensive refurbishment that would be a very poor result for Croydon, and we object to all aspects which may affect the future operational viability of the venue.”
The statement adds: “It is vital that Croydon Council introduce an operator into the design process at the earliest opportunity. When plans are being developed in the absence of an operator, mistakes mean rework, increasing the cost to the operator. Art venues play a significant role in community, having a major impact on peoples lives. It is now time that the Council engaged with the community and listened to their concerns.”
Croydon Council said the scheme has been developed in consultation with the various landowners on the wider site and these discussions will continue as the scheme progresses.
Councillor Alison Butler, cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, said: “I’m absolutely delighted this project has been approved. College Green is a hugely symbolic project for Croydon and crucial to the borough’s overall regeneration and growth ambitions.”
She said the proposal would revitalise an under-used and tired area, turning it into a “vibrant public space”.
Responding to criticism of the plans, a council spokeswoman added: “The award-winning design of the new Fairfield Halls creates modern, flexible spaces that will appeal to a wide range of promoters and an environment that will be welcoming and accessible to all of Croydon’s diverse audiences.
“The design that we are currently implementing has been informed by expert advice from the previous operator and various sources within our professional team, including input from the Theatres Trust and others throughout the planning process. The planning application covers potential future changes allowing us to be flexible about how the building is used over time and we feel the design best suits our needs and the needs for future operators.”