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Planned cafe in Burnley Empire entrance ‘puts cultural asset at risk’

Interior of Empire Theatre in Burnley Interior of the Empire Theatre in Burnley
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Plans for a permanent cafe in the foyer of the disused Burnley Empire Theatre could signal the end of the venue as a cultural asset, the Theatres Trust has warned.

Burnley Borough Council previously approved a 10-year temporary planning permission for the former front entrance to be used as a cafe in March, despite the theatre conservation body objecting.

Cafe plan for derelict Burnley Empire are ‘huge blow’ to restoration

Now developers have submitted a further application, which seeks permanent approval for the cafe.

A letter of objection from the Theatres Trust said: “We strongly object to this further submission, which would appear to make the existing 10-year ‘temporary’ permission permanent and would prevent future access to the Empire Theatre due to the construction of an internal separation wall.

“This would result in the loss of the Empire Theatre as a cultural and heritage asset.”

The letter goes on to argue that the plans appear to include land outside the applicant’s ownership. The trust argues that, should this land be developed, it would restrict access to the theatre’s circle seating and reduce capacity in the stalls.

It adds: “In conclusion, this proposal does not accord with local or national policy and would compromise the future of the Empire Theatre as a cultural and heritage asset for Burnley. The application contains misleading and erroneous information, downplaying the historic significance of the application site and the main auditorium.”

The theatre, which has been disused for 20 years, ranks 14th on the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk Register 2018.

Burnley Empire Theatre is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, and the applicant listed on the planning form is Mr and Mrs Musso.

Tom Clarke, planning adviser at the Theatres Trust, said: “The building could be a tremendous community and cultural asset for the people of Burnley and play a significant role in the revitalisation and future of Burnley’s town centre.

“The plans, if approved, would not only prevent future access to the theatre, but we believe it could ultimately result in the loss of the Empire Theatre as a cultural and heritage asset for Burnley.”

He added: “Burnley Council has a statutory obligation in helping to preserve Burnley’s heritage, particularly where the asset is of such great architectural and social interest. The theatre also represents a tremendous opportunity to act as a focal point in efforts to revitalise Burnley’s town centre, so we urge the council to think very carefully about what is best for Burnley before deciding on the application.”

A statement from Sophie Gibson, acting chair of campaign group Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, said: “We recently objected to temporary planning permission to develop the entrance of the Grade II historic venue into a cafe by an independent owner.

“Burnley Council’s decision to grant 10 years ‘temporary’ planning permission at the entrance despite solid negation was disappointing, but certainly highlighted the amount of support backing the project to bring life back into the Burnley Empire.”

She added: “As always we will continue to move forward in the best interest of the Burnley Empire to secure its future use.”

Burnley Borough Council did not respond to a request for comment.