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Banbury’s Grand Theatre under threat from developers again

The exterior of Banbury Grand Theatre, when it was in use as a bar and restaurant The exterior of Banbury Grand Theatre, when it was in use as a bar and restaurant
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Banbury’s Grand Theatre is once again under threat from developers, after a third planning application to turn it into flats was submitted.

Campaigners are now issuing a rallying call for people to voice their support for the Oxfordshire building to return to cultural use.

Plans to develop the theatre into flats were approved in 2014, but the scheme was later deemed financially unviable. A second application in 2016 was submitted and then withdrawn, however it has now been amended and resubmitted, proposing to redevelop the Grand into 12 flats.

Those fighting to return the building to its roots as a theatre fear that this might be their last chance to save the venue.

The Grand has been vacant since early 2014 and has not been in use as a performance venue since the 1960s, however campaigners believe that it is still viable for both cultural and community use and should be maintained.

Despite not being used as a theatre for several decades – the building was most recently a pub – its proscenium arch, circle and fly system remain.

Rob Kinchin-Smith, who heads up campaign group the Friends of the Grand Theatre, said opposing the current planning application was the first hurdle of many, and that it was important to demonstrate to the building’s owners and the council that there was a viable, alternative plan for the site.

“There has been talk from the council for several years about building a cultural quarter here, but there’s no money for it. Here we have an existing building, it’s even got up-to-date toilets and bar facilities. It’s just begging to find its way back into use for performance,” he told The Stage.

Kinchin-Smith added that local theatre, opera and dance groups were “desperate” for an arts venue that could also be used by the local community, and a refurbished Grand would be suitable for both.

The development plans have been submitted to Cherwell District Council, with a decision expected in March.