Theatre restoration moves step closer

AN AMBITIOUS multi-million pound scheme to restore a much-loved Suffolk theatre to its former Georgian glory has moved a step closer to reality.

AN AMBITIOUS multi-million pound scheme to restore a much-loved Suffolk theatre to its former Georgian glory has moved a step closer to reality.

Planning applications for the £5.1m refurbishment of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds have now been lodged, and officials are hopeful they will be well received during a public consultation scheduled for the end of the month.

Should the plans win approval from St Edmundsbury Borough Council, building work is due to begin in the autumn for a period of 18 months.

“This has been a long time coming, but we are very pleased to have got the application in,” said Colin Blumenau, Theatre Royal director.

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“We will then have a public launch and consultation week at the end of January, and we look forward to that and it gives us plenty of time for us to talk about further details.

“It is important to get the planning application in for reasons of time. We are very excited about this and think it is a really good scheme.”

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Playhouse officials were forced to scale down their original £6.4m plans after the council refused its request for a £1.5m handout, instead pledging £250,000 towards the scheme.

Architects were forced to draw up fresh proposals following the decision, with a one-storey foyer replacing the two floors bosses had originally favoured.

The box office, which was to be transferred to the main playhouse from its current home in an adjacent building, will now remain as it was.

“The funding is now very nearly in place, and we are confident enough to be able to go ahead now subject to getting the grant approvals through,” added Mr Blumenau.

“It was always a question of dotting a few more I's and crossing a few more T's, but we plan to go ahead without any further delays.”

Once complete, the Grade I listed building will be restored to its original 1819 design, while bar facilities, toilets and catering will be improved for audiences.

The building project should take around 18 months to complete, with bosses closing the theatre this autumn to allow the craftsmen to move in.

Contingency plans have been drawn up to ensure audiences can still enjoy regular performances throughout the closure period, with events to be staged at a number of venues across the borough.

“We are planning to put on a whole lot of different things around the town so we keep faith with the audience,” added Mr Blumenau.

“We are currently investigating this year's pantomime, as we desperately want to do that. There are a couple of options that might work, and we will announce details as soon as we have a definite decision.”

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