Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
The curtain looks set to fall on one of Enfield’s cultural landmarks after councillors gave the go-ahead for its demolition.
The decision means the historic Intimate Theatre in Palmers Green can be knocked down to make way for a new church hall and six two-bedroom flats.
Built in 1932, St Monica’s Church Hall was leased to a theatre company in 1935 and, renamed as Intimate Theatre, made history when it staged the first play broadcast live on UK television in 1946. Richard Attenborough, Roger Moore and David Bowie were among the stars to tread the boards there.
But the church hall’s use as a theatre has declined in recent years, and its owner won permission to redevelop the site at a meeting of the planning committee last month.
Enfield Council received a petition with 4,513 signatures objecting to the development, while a second petition in support of the plans gained 1,500 signatures.
Tom Clarke, a planning adviser for the Theatres Trust, told the meeting the decline in theatres was overstated, and options to adapt the existing building to better meet the needs of parishioners had not been adequately explored. He said the trust would appeal to the government to review the planning decision.
A spokesperson for campaign group Save the Intimate Theatre said the Intimate’s demolition would mean “the loss of culture in the borough”. He added: “It has served as an access route into the arts since 1935.
“There are generations of families who have loved using the theatre, and they want that to continue for the next generation.”
But Colin Smart, planning agent at Kyle Smart Associates, told the committee demand for productions had diminished to the point where it is “no longer used as a theatre in the modern world”.
Father Mehall Lowry, parish priest at St Monica’s, said half of the hall could not be used by wheelchair users or those with impaired mobility. He added: “We do outreach work with schools and faith groups. We can’t do it in the present building.”
Under questioning from councillors, planning officers said theatre productions could still be held in the newly built hall – although they admitted the capacity would be reduced and there would be no permanent stage.
Other committee members pointed out that none of the homes would be affordable and claimed this meant they would not benefit the local community. In response to further questioning, Fr Lowry told councillors the hall is now used as a theatre for only two or three weeks a year. “For the other 50 or 49 weeks a year, it is a parish hall and community building and is not fit for purpose,” he added.
Councllor Doug Taylor, a Labour member of the planning committee, asked if the council could retain some of the features of the existing church hall in the new building – but officers told him that would require a different application.
At the end of the debate, seven councillors voted in favour of the plans, with four abstaining and only one, Hass Yusuf (Labour), voting against.