Theatre demolition approved for second time

Defeat in long-running battle to save Intimate Theatre, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Intimate Theatre
Intimate Theatre in Green Lanes is on the Enfield Local Heritage List

Plans to demolish a historic theatre in Palmers Green have been approved for a second time, despite a hard-fought battle to save the venue.

The redevelopment of St Monica’s Church Hall in Green Lanes – commonly known as Intimate Theatre – was given the go-ahead during a meeting of Enfield Council’s planning committee on Tuesday.

It means the existing building can be knocked down to make way for a new church hall along with six two-bedroom flats.

Built in 1931, St Monica’s Church Hall was renamed Intimate Theatre after being leased to a theatre company in 1935. It made history when it staged the first play broadcast live on UK television in 1946, with famous names including Richard Attenborough, Roger Moore and David Bowie performing there over the years.

Following a decline in its use as a theatre, owners St Monica’s Parish announced plans to demolish the hall in 2018, citing high upkeep costs and accessibility issues for those with impaired mobility. The church argued it needed an “accessible, flexible, multi-function building” and that the only way to achieve this was to replace the existing hall.

A campaign to save the Intimate began soon afterwards, and an online petition calling for a rethink of the plans gained more than 5,000 signatures. In 2019, Theatres Trust, a national body representing British theatres, applied to have the building statutorily listed, but its bid was ultimately unsuccessful.

The council initially granted permission for the hall’s redevelopment in November 2020, but Theatres Trust threatened a judicial review of the decision, disputing some of the advice given to councillors prior to their vote. After planning policies were updated, the council took legal advice and referred the application back to the committee for a fresh decision.

During a meeting in January, councillors chose to defer making a decision on the scheme to give St Monica’s a chance to “explore whether the explicit use of theatre performance can be retained” by including provision for a moveable stage.

The church subsequently supplied documents designed to show the new building could be used as a theatre, including a proposed layout indicating a 156-seater space with a moveable stage and lighting.

Plans for the new St Monica's Hall, which will replace Intimate Theatre
Plans for the new St Monica’s Hall, which is set to replace Intimate Theatre

Theatres Trust maintained its opposition to the plans, however. In a letter to the council, it wrote that the proposals would lead to “a substantially reduced standard of provision”, branding them “impractical and inadequate without a more fundamental revision”.

Following the committee’s decision, the trust said it was “hugely disappointed” and claimed the redevelopment would “leave the area without a community theatre space for amateur or local groups, for which there is widespread local support and a clear demand”.