Open air theatre dream gets council support - but red tape delays final approval

Plans for the theatre

Adrian Bunting

First published in News by , local government reporter

An open air theatre that was the final dream of a playwright who died of pancreatic cancer has been supported by councillors.

The Brighton Open Air Theatre was the brain child of Adrian Bunting, who died of cancer at the age of 47 in May last year.

The writer, whose play Kemble’s Riot won Best Play at Brighton Fringe Festival in 2011, was a major part of the arts scene in the early 1990s.

After his diagnosis he set his sights on the ambitious vision of a new theatre for Brighton and even poured his £18,000 life savings into realising his dream.

His friends took on the challenge of seeing his idea become a reality and they were just hours away from getting the final go-ahead.

But in scenes that would have been more suited to the stage than a council meeting, councillors appeared all set to approve the theatre, before officers cast a shadow over the proceedings.

It had all started well for the plans, with councillors agreeing to wave a £26,250 contribution from the applicants that would have gone to help for pedestrian and cycle improvements on Dyke Road, where the new theatre will be built, replacing the closed down bowling green.

They voted to remove conditions on the theatre that would have limited 10 of the monthly performances to a maximum audience of 250 people and councillor Geoffrey Wells went as far as to bid the applicants every success.

But when officers raised concerns that changing the details of the application could mean it might have to go back out to consultation, councillors tried to introduce new measures that would allow them to agree the application and allow the applicants to apply for changes later on.

And when the applicants themselves raised concerns that misleading or inaccurate information was being discussed by officers – in particular the suggestion that the theatre would only stage performances from Wednesday to Saturday – councillors were left with no choice but to reluctantly defer the plans to a later meeting while the details were worked out.

James Payne, a trustee of the Brighton Open Air Theatre, said: “The process and legality seemed unclear so it was probably for the best in the short term but I felt there was a will to see it happen.

“In the next few weeks we’ll clear what the project is about and that will help. We hope they will have the same enthusiasm next time round.”


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