Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter, and James Cracknell
The redevelopment of the former Granada/EMD cinema in Hoe Street has been granted unanimous planning permission.
Waltham Forest Council plans to spend £25million transforming the derelict Grade 2-listed theatre into a 1,050-seat comedy and entertainment venue run by Soho Theatre. The main auditorium has been derelict for well over a decade, although the foyer was recently used as a pub.
At the planning committee three neighbouring residents spoke about how their properties would be overshadowed by the new building, which will be five metres taller after the addition of a rigging system for the stage.
Resident David White said he and his neighbours would “miss the morning sunlight keenly” and were “disappointed with the council’s process” having found it difficult to navigate the website and planning documents.
He said: “We really want to be able to support the plans, I have campaigned for this since 2010, I want this building to be brought back into life.
“But the current back of house extension is a great detriment to the home life of the building’s immediate neighbours.
“I still believe that you can improve the plans and make this a building we will all welcome wholeheartedly.”
On behalf of the applicant, Michael Rush insisted the added height was vital to make the theatre commercially viable by allowing it to host “mid-scale touring productions” like pantomimes, which have “very broad appeal and the capacity to attract up to 60,000 people”.
The ability to quickly alter the stage through the rigging system will also, he said, make it “possible to programme community events on the same days as public performances”.
He added: “It future-proofs the council’s investment and provides flexibility for its future use as a theatre. Without the [rigging system], Soho Theatre’s business case would be severely compromised.”
Councillor Alan Siggers (Conservative), who ultimately voted for the proposal, said the council was “affecting people’s lives by doing this and not in a good way”.
He added: “I wish we could do this type of thing and actually follow our policies and not affect anybody.”
Councillor Marie Pye (Labour) praised the development for a variety of measures to make it more inclusive, which include ten wheelchair-accessible seats.
Bought for £17m by the council in 2018, the theatre is now set to become a comedy hub for Soho Theatre. Plans for the venue’s revival have been developed in discussion with Historic England and also include a “stalls parterre” to be introduced “to enhance the intimacy of the space, without detracting from its heritage”. The building suffered bomb damage during the Second World War but the original Hoe Street gable will be restored with two floors of retail and cafe space provided “to contribute to the vitality of the high street”.