New Disaster for Troubled Theatre means future is far from settled

Just as the Watermans Arts Centre was looking forward to a new beginning it has received a crushing blow with the Council telling them that their new extension does not meet planning requirements and may have to be demolished.

The opening planned for next month may still proceed but it remains unclear whether the Watermans will remain financially viable following the cost of bringing the theatre up to the standards required by the planning authorities, despite over £1 million being recently given to it by various public bodies including Hounslow Council.


The Watermans Arts Centre

Former trustee of the Watermans, Michael Sterne said, "It's not easy to see how Watermans can survive if they have to fund the demolition and presumably repay the cost of the extension to those who funded it."

An Enforcement Notice against the unauthorised extension to the Watermans Arts Centre was served on Tuesday 12th March. The Notice comes into effect on 23rd April 2002 and requires the extension to either be altered so that it is built in accordance with the relevant planning permission, or the extension to be demolished. The time for compliance is three months after the Notice comes into effect, i.e. by 23rd July 2002. If an appeal is to be lodged against the Notice it has to be made before the date that the Notice comes into effect (23rd April 2002).

The original design for the extension was supposed to resemble a boat in keeping with the centre's riverside location but allegedly funds ran short during construction and a cheaper box shape design was opted for but a revision to the planning approvals was not obtained. The centre has been criticised for mismanagement and poor publicity in the past. It has received subsidies of £150,000 and £180,000 from the Council in successive years as well as grants from the Arts Council. The executive appear to want to distance themselves from the debacle with Cllr Vannessa Smith quoted as saying "it is unfair to point the finger at the Council because not many of us have been involved with it."

The fortunes of the Watermans Theatre contrasts sharply with the Lyric in Hammersmith where plans have recently been revealed which will make it the centre piece of a new town square. The Lyric's regular shows for children have been particular popular with Chiswick residents.

The Watermans has been closed for over a year but was popular with Chiswick residents with reportedly half of the visitors coming from this part of London. However, with escalating property prices in Brentford and the prime riverside location closure could be a lucrative option for the Council. A Councillor from the ruling group has been quoted as saying that the site is "worth a bomb" and that they needed to be "hard-headed on this issue".

Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

Watermans Arts Centre

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