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New 500-seat Harpenden theatre mooted for 2020

Harpenden High Street. Photo: Wiki Creative Commons
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Plans have been submitted for a 500-seat theatre in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, to replace the town’s existing Public Halls venue.

St Albans City and District Council is proposing to redevelop an old sports hall into the new cultural centre, which will be located within a redeveloped leisure centre.

The cultural centre would take on the activities of the Public Halls, which is set to close in 2020 and currently consists of a 400-seat theatre and a 70-seat studio space.

According to planning documents, the Public Halls may be released by the council for redevelopment following its closure.

Theatre conservation organisation the Theatres Trust has welcomed the proposals overall, on the condition that the Public Halls remains open until the Harpenden Leisure Centre and Cultural Centre is completed.

A spokeswoman said: “Revitalising and replacing the theatre facilities shows the local authority’s commitment to providing access to culture for Harpenden residents, and we welcome the proposed theatre designs, on the proviso that the Public Halls remain open until the new venue is ready.”

A planning response from the trust adds that the organisation has some concerns about the new development, including the loss of the Public Halls’ existing smaller performance space, for which there is currently no replacement.

The planning response also adds that St Alban City and District Council must ensure the theatre has enough wheelchair spaces in the auditorium.

Richard Shwe, deputy chief executive for St Albans City and District Council, said: “We are delighted that the Theatres Trust has recommended our plans for a new arts and culture hub in Harpenden and is satisfied with the designs.

“Far from reducing the number of seats, I can assure them the capacity of the new entertainment venue will be substantially increased. There will be room for 511 people to be seated instead of the 410 that can be seated at the public halls.”

Shwe added: “This new centre will not only cater for community and amateur groups, but will provide Harpenden with a much-enhanced stage to attract major musicians, touring theatre groups and other professional performers.

“Our disability provision is substantial. As well as providing four wheelchair spaces on the balcony, we have unlimited provision on the ground floor as stall seats can be removed.”