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You are here: Home / Latest News

Press Release

20 December 2023

Clarity on Titchfield Festival Theatre

Fareham Borough Council is keen to dispel the misinformation circulating in relation to the Planning Enforcement Notice issued against Titchfield Festival Theatre in November 2023.

The existing Titchfield Festival Theatre comprises the Oak Theatre and Acorn Studio which have been on site for more than a decade.  Both are well-used and a huge asset to the local community. The fantastic events and community engagement that have been running for years at both the Oak Theatre and the Acorn Studio are not in dispute and are not affected by the Council’s Enforcement Notice.

The Planning Enforcement Notice has been issued against a third venue, a much larger 450-seat theatre which has been created behind the Oak Theatre and Acorn Studio, without planning permission. 

Concerns were raised with the Council in May 2023 regarding the lack of parking provision at the new theatre under construction.  Council Officers visited the site and met with representatives of the theatre company who explained that work was underway to create a new 450-seat theatre.  The development includes a newly excavated underground orchestra pit beneath the stage and a complex of backstage changing rooms and rehearsal areas.  The new theatre has been created in a space which has planning permission for use for storage purposes only. 

Council officers warned the company that, without appropriate planning permission being obtained, the new venue was at risk of enforcement action being taken.  Despite this warning, no planning application was forthcoming, and work continued. Various public performances have since taken place with shows being advertised on the theatre company website throughout December and well into 2024.

In light of the scale and location of the theatre and the amount of car parking available to serve it, the Council issued a Planning Enforcement Notice.  The notice requires the theatre to cease operations in the unauthorised venue by 29 February 2024 unless an appeal is first lodged with the Secretary of State by 29 December 2023.

Executive Member for Leisure and Community, Cllr Sue Walker said: “The Titchfield Festival Theatre is a tremendous asset to the Borough and its original operation is not in contention. The Council is supportive of more community facilities, theatres and opportunities for people to get involved in productions within Fareham. The more the merrier, in my view. However, I find it extraordinary that the Council are being demonised for upholding laws which are put in place to protect people, the local environment and ensure visitor’s safety. I sincerely hope that in the future the operators of Titchfield Festival Theatre will engage in open and constructive dialogue in advance of any new works being undertaken.”

Planning Permission

It is the responsibility of the Council to ensure all new development across the Borough has the necessary planning approvals in place and, importantly, residents expect us to protect the environment of the Borough. Planning permission is required for many buildings works and for changes of use in the Borough.

A planning application for a new 530 seat theatre was submitted by Titchfield Festival Theatre in 2019 but this was refused, primarily because the theatre is in a countryside location with inadequate public transport infrastructure – there are no bus services at the nearest bus stop after 7pm each day. Furthermore, the new theatre would lead to a significant increase in noise affecting neighbours and the theatre has parking for only 35 vehicles onsite.

Titchfield Festival Theatre claim that the site of the new theatre has been in use for over ten years, the implication being that, if so, it may be immune from planning enforcement action.  If they wanted, the Theatre could have provided evidence and made an application to the Council requesting confirmation that the development was 'lawful' and immune from planning enforcement action. Since discovering the new theatre under construction in May 2023, the Council has invited the theatre company to provide this evidence and to make an application, but no application has been made.

Building Control

Building control ensures buildings are fit for the purpose for which they will be used.

An Initial notice covering these works has been submitted to Fareham Borough Council by an Approved Inspector.  This means that Building Regulation compliance for the design and construction of these works is the responsibility of a private sector company and not the local authority. We are aware that to date a Final Notice Certificate has yet to be issued for the building works, and have raised concerns that the building appears to be operational to both the Approved Inspector responsible, and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Without a Final Notice being issued in relation to the works at Titchfield Festival Theatre, Fareham Borough Council has no evidence that they comply with the relevant building regulations, although the Theatre operators have confirmed they have passed all the relevant inspections. We look forward to receiving the relevant documentation from the Theatre and their appointed building control body within the statutory time limits.

Chairman of the Planning Committee, Cllr Nick Walker, said: “Titchfield Festival Theatre has once again left the Council with no option but to pursue formal planning enforcement action.  How they could assume that a 450-seat theatre would not require planning permission is extremely worrying. People have a right to assume that performance spaces are safe and expect the Council to fulfil their duties in upholding the planning and building regulations.”

Parking

One of the primary reasons that planning permission was refused for a 530 seat theatre back in 2019, was due to the lack of parking on the Titchfield Festival Theatre site. With just 35 car parking spaces at the theatre itself, the Council receive regular complaints and photographic evidence from residents due to cars being parked along nearby roads and causing obstructions. While the Theatre operators would like to use the land adjacent to the theatre as parking, this land is not owned by Fareham Borough Council and the landowner cannot be made to release it for use as a car park.  Furthermore, the creation of a car park would also need planning permission and no planning application has ever been received for a new car park on the land.

Licensing

Since discovering the new theatre had been built, it subsequently become apparent that additional permissions required to operate a new public building had not been applied for, including performance and alcohol licences, despite the fact they are in place for both the Oak Theatre and Acorn Studio. 

Any organisation that wishes to sell or supply alcohol in England and Wales must have a licence from a licensing authority. Similarly, a venue needs a licence to play live or recorded music. An enforcement visit was made last week by the Council, at which time no such licence had been applied for at the new Theatre. Applications were made following this visit.

Chairman of the Licensing Committee, Cllr Pamela Bryant added: “Licensing laws are in place to protect both venues and their visitors. The law and policy governing alcohol licences is so important that it is overseen by the Home Office. While Titchfield Festival Theatre has all the appropriate licenses in place for both its Oak Theatre and Acorn Studio, no such licenses were in place for this new theatre. In any case an operator could not use any licence granted without also having the appropriate planning permissions in place.”

Additional facts

This is not the first time that the Council has had to take planning enforcement action against Titchfield Festival Theatre for breaches of planning. The previous two occasions do not relate to the Titchfield Festival Theatre site in St Margaret’s Lane but to a Grade I listed medieval barn also owned by the Theatre group in Mill Lane Titchfield.

Previous planning enforcement action was taken in relation to the theatre company laying a tarmac surface to the whole of a car park immediately in front of the Grade 1 listed barn.  The tarmac surface was not removed until court proceedings were brought by the Council.  In addition, Titchfield Festival Theatre repeatedly breached a condition of its planning permission which limits the number of weddings and related events it is entitled to hold at the Barn each year.

In the latter case Titchfield Festival Theatre pleaded guilty to nine offences and fines and court costs had to be paid by the Titchfield Festival Theatre.  A hearing is scheduled for April 2024 so that a Crown Court judge can decide whether to confiscate any profits the Theatre made from unauthorised weddings. The need for the Council to take any planning enforcement action could have been avoided at the outset if the Titchfield festival Theatre complied with conditions of its planning permission or only carried out development after it had first obtained planning permission. The actions to date show a complete disregard for planning laws. 

Read the Planning Enforcement Notice in full here.


ENDS


For further information contact:

Customer Enquiries

Tel: 01329 236100
Email: customerservicecentre@fareham.gov.uk

Media Enquiries

The Communications Team
Tel: 01329 824310
Email: publicity@fareham.gov.uk
Fax: 01329 550576

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