Dramatic pause? Councillors delay decision on Brighton school’s plans for new theatre

A private school’s plans for a 400-seat theatre and performing arts centre will have to wait after councillors raised several concerns about the scheme.

They want to hear more about Brighton College’s proposals because of concerns about the lack of disabled access to a balcony, no detail about community access and potential parking pressure.

After an hour of questions and discussion, members of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee were not satisfied with the answers to their questions.

The committee voted to defer the application until next month to allow the college to address the issues they raised.

Members were told that the proposed performing arts building would include a theatre, two dance and drama studios, a new sixth form centre, several classrooms and offices, storage and a café.

But they picked up on concerns about access for people with disabilities raised in relation to another site by disability rights campaigner Pippa Hodge.

Moments earlier at the meeting on Wednesday (6 October), she had spoken about the lack of access to the roof terrace at Rockwater, a venue on Hove seafront.

Green councillor Marianna Ebel asked if the proposed school building would be genuinely accessible because the Theatres Trust had asked for “further review of wheelchair access” in its comments on the application.

The committee was told that everywhere except the balcony area would be accessible to wheelchair users.

Planning officer Ben Daines said that the balcony was not designed with wheelchair access because it would have required a bigger roof.

And council planning officials had been concerned about the size of the roof because the site is next to listed buildings.

Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that the committee should put off a decision until the school and planning officials addressed their questions, including those relating to disabled access.

Councillor Yates said: “They’ve taken the decision that they need a balcony for some reasons – even though that’s a massive increase in the number of seats available to a theatre – which apparently is going to need smoke extraction facilities, which I’m guessing means they’re either going to be hosting the X-Factor, or they’re going to have a pantomime every year. Or maybe they’re going to have a catering block going in there.

“We had a member of the public only this afternoon questioning why a lift isn’t in (at Rockwater) so they can get access to a space.

“Yet we are now talking about another space where we’re not even proposing requiring there to be a lift included. I think there’s a significant conflict there.”

The proposed Brighton College theatre block

Mr Daines said that the proposed theatre would host productions for about 12 nights a year.

But Councillor Yates said that was contrary to the council’s requirement for the centre to be available to the community.

Green councillor Sue Shanks seconded Councillor Yates’s call for a delay and said that she was frustrated by the lack of information about potential community use and accessibility.

Councillor Shanks said: “I know about Brighton Youth Centre down the road. I would have thought they would have really appreciated the use of this building for performances. They could do with a new building.

“This is going to be a really state of the art thing for young people and this is supposed to be a charity, this school.

Councillor Daniel Yates

“We should be upping what we demand or ask or how much community use can be given to young people in the area who don’t have the privilege of going to a school with those facilities.”

The proposed grey stone and knapped flint building was described as the “grand finale” to Brighton College’s 10-year master plan.

It would replace the 1980s Lester building, the 1950s science block and the existing performing arts centre which was built in 2000.

The committee voted eight to one to defer the application.

Independent councillor Tony Janio, who opposed putting off a decision, said that he wanted to let the school get on with building the performing arts and sixth form centre.

  1. Verity Reply

    Interestingly, the councillors wanted the school to offer more access to the community, although they seemed blissfully ignorant of the safeguarding implications of doing so, especially considering the number of boarders there.
    And hypocritically, the council and the local authority maintained schools in this area have some amazing facilities which the council does not open up to the community.
    Personally, I hope that Brighton College finds a way to do more for those on its doorstep, especially the children and young people who lack the privileges of those who go to the school. The school and the students already use their wealth and position to help those less fortunate, like Roedean and its students, but more of course would always be welcome, while continuing to provide pupils with an excellent academic education.

  2. Some Guy Reply

    “the council and the local authority maintained schools in this area have some amazing facilities which the council does not open up to the community”
    Local authority schools by definition are opened up to the community, unlike private schools which only benefit rich kids.

  3. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    We need more emphasis upon theatre in all schools. These are visited by agents. A friend’s niece was given a part in Game of Thrones after being spotted in a school production. Even if that is a rare elevation, theatre provides so much.

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