Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Stratford-on-Avon District Council



  1.  The Committee has requested that the District Council provide a written memorandum on the following issues:

    (a)  How does the Council view the redevelopment plans?

    (b)  Is it necessary to virtually demolish the main theatre?

    (c)  Is the listed building worth preserving?

    (d)  How does the Council view the wider plans to create a theatre village?

    (e)  What participation has there been in developing the transport strategy?

    (f)  What response has there been from the local community and how have local people been involved in the decision making process?

  2.  The District Council, Warwickshire County Council and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are working in partnership to examine and promote the cultural, social, economic and environmental benefits of a comprehensive and visionary approach to the future of the RSC and the riverside environs of Stratford-upon-Avon. The County Council has prepared a separate memorandum to the Select Committee and its document should be read in conjunction with this response.

  3.  The District Council's response is set out within seven separate sections as follows:

    —  Strategic Overview

    —  Environmental Issues

    —  Listed Building & Conservation Area Issues

    —  Local Transport Issues

    —  Consultation

    —  Response to the Committee's Questions

    —  Conclusions


  4.  Internationally the town of Stratford-upon-Avon is synonymous with William Shakespeare and both the poet and the town form an integral part of British culture with influences well beyond the English speaking world. The character of the town is inextricably linked to Shakespeare and this is reflected in the current bid to make Stratford a World Heritage Site. The centrepiece to the character and cultural identity of the town is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the work of the RSC.

  5.  The significance of the RSC is clearly illustrated by the economic influence of the theatres within the town which bring a total of £18 million per annum of direct income to South Warwickshire. This influence is further illustrated by the overwhelming impact of visitors on the town; Stratford town has a population of only 23,000 and yet receives about three million visitors each year. Wider economic benefits are substantial to the regional and national economy.

  6.  Whilst the economic and cultural benefits of the RSC are wide and substantial, the environmental implications of any redevelopment proposals are likely to be significant. The main theatre and adjoining buildings are listed and the whole waterfront area is of considerable value to the conservation area and the setting of the town. The view of Holy Trinity Church, from Tramway Bridge past the theatre, is one of the most famous views in the country. In high summer, the blend of mature landscape and historic buildings is characteristic of the essential quality of a fine English market town set on the banks of a beautiful river.

  7.  At the outset the District Council recognised that any major proposals for the RSC would not only fundamentally affect the waterfront area, but would also have a profound impact on the historic centre and the rest of the town. In recognition of this view the District Council and the County Council commissioned an urban design-led study of the public realm for the whole waterfront area. A copy of this study, known as the Stratford-upon-Avon Theatre Area Feasibility Study (STAFS), has been made available to the Select Committee (with the County Council submission) and the consultation, which formed part of this work, is set out below. A high level championing body has been established to take this work forward and a list of the membership of the group is included within minutes also attached to the County Council submission.

  8.  It is clear from this work that any scheme to take forward the RSC proposals needs to be matched by a comprehensive approach to the waterfront area. This approach needs to recognise the importance of protecting and developing the urban and landscape qualities of the area and the historic core of the town to the highest standards—we are seeking world-class quality. The District Council is committed to this approach and dedicated to working in partnership to achieve this objective.


  9.  The District Council owns the Bancroft Gardens adjoining the Theatre, the River Avon and the Recreation Ground on the southern bank of the Avon. This land is managed in a way that recognises its value both to the local community and to the significant number of visitors to the town as public open space, as well as its providing the setting for the RST.

  10.  These areas, which form a major part of the public realm environment in which the RST sits, suffer considerable pressures and problems including:-

    —  an over-intensive use in some areas and at certain times, whilst other areas remain under-used;

    —  a wide variety and type of uses for which the areas were not necessarily designed;

    —  an excessive volume of car-borne visitors to the Recreation Ground;

    —  a lack of integrated design that would make the areas truly appropriate to their setting adjoining the town, theatre and river; and

    —  a lack of ecological diversity.

  11.  It had been recognised for some time that these areas were in need of a thorough review and to this end the District Council commissioned a "Riverside Environs Study" which also considered adjoining land in the river corridor to the north of the town. This Study, which was undertaken in 1998, used community participation exercises to assist in identifying the key conflicts in these areas. The Study made recommendations and established the need for further work to ensure co-ordinated and integrated improvements.

  12.  The Riverside Environs Study provided a useful background to the subsequent STAFS, which has illustrated the scope and need for significant improvements, particularly if progressed in liaison with the RSC and British Waterways.

  13.  The RSC proposals provide the opportunity for significant improvements to be progressed with a view to achieving:

    —  improved linkages, particularly in terms of footpaths and cycleways;

    —  the dispersal of visitors over a wider area;

    —  greater integration between the river and the town centre;

    —  an improved night-time experience for users of the waterside area, for example providing for enhanced community safety and greater evening economy benefits;

    —  provision of a quality experience;

    —  integrated design, brought about for example by working with British Waterways on proposals for the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and Bancroft Basin; and

    —  increased bio-diversity.

  14.  In summary, the RSC project provides an exciting stimulus to progress what is already widely recognised as a need to improve the public realm in and around the Theatre. It is timely in that the public realm in the waterside area is now approaching the stage when significant capital investment will be required in order to provide the quality of experience that local residents and visitors deserve.


  15.  The District Council has been engaged in discussions with the RSC over the potential redevelopment of its estate since 1996, and from an early stage these talks have included officers of both the development control and conservation services of the Council and representatives of English Heritage.

  16.  At the outset, although various options for the location of the principal auditorium were being pursued, most involved substantial alteration of the existing main theatre and one required complete demolition of the 1932 elements. The complex of buildings of 1879, 1881 and 1932 now comprising the main theatre (RST), the Swan Theatre and the Museum was first listed in 1971. In 1994 it was raised to Grade II* following a list review for Stratford-upon-Avon carried out by English Heritage. The RSC were advised in the strongest terms by English Heritage that demolition of a Grade II* listed building could only be contemplated as a last resort. It was likely to be strongly opposed unless the onerous tests set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 15 (Planning and the Historic Environment) could be shown to have been satisfied.

  17.  At the same time it was recognised both that there were serious operating constraints with the existing arrangements and that many aspects of the buildings had been altered and architecturally compromised in the middle years of the 20th Century. While the principal elevation of Elisabeth Scott's building and the front-of-house areas retained much of their original quality, the alterations to the auditorium and the side elevations had significantly reduced their value. There was therefore considerable scope for further alteration and extension in these areas.

  18.  The appointment of the internationally renowned architects was welcomed as offering the potential for an architectural solution of great imagination and the highest quality.

  19.  In the subsequent development of the project, a conservation report by Alan Baxter and Associates (included as Appendix 6 in the RSC Feasibility Report) [not printed] confirmed the importance of the buildings and the "critical significance" of the elements earlier identified by English Heritage. The strong conclusion of the Feasibility Report was that "the irreconcilable conflict between the inadequacy of the current RST and the future needs of the RSC can only be appropriately resolved by full replacement of the 1932 building". This strategy was carried forward in the Draft Project Brief of October 2001. However, recognising the implications of such a conclusion for a successful passage through the planning process (not least the possibility of the application being called in by the Secretary of State), the report recommended commissioning PPG15 assessments to examine in more detail the case for and against demolition. Alan Baxter and Associates have now been commissioned to carry out this study to a brief developed in consultation with the District Council and English Heritage. Importantly, in light of the PPG15 criteria, the consultant team will examine the operational and cost implications of three options:

    —  adapting the 1930s theatre;

    —  substantially reconfiguring the theatre, retaining the key elements which have been identified in the conservation assessment ( and agreed with English Heritage and Stratford District Council); and

    —  demolition of the 1930s theatre and rebuilding on the site, having regard to the RSC's brief and objectives and the work undertaken in the Feasibility Study.

  20.  At the present time the views of English Heritage remain essentially as originally stated, and are contained in their letter of 12 September 2001 (Appendix 2 in the Planning Assessment Appendix to the Feasibility Study). The Local Planning Authority is not yet in a position to take a view on its support or otherwise for the demolition of the 1932 theatre. Its stance will only be determined when detailed applications for planning permission and listed building consent have been submitted and when the PPG15 Study is completed.

  21.  A redevelopment project has the potential to provide some extremely positive effects on the conservation area. The benefits of the theatre village concept could include:

    —  new building work of exceptional quality;

    —  refurbishment of listed buildings;

    —  refurbishment of significant unlisted buildings (such as the Union Club);

    —  physical enhancement of the immediate environs of the theatres; and

    —  increased vitality within the theatre village area.

  22.  However, it should also be remembered that some views of the Grade II* building are of iconic significance and are therefore of immense importance to the character of the conservation area. The views of the theatre from the bridges, for example, are among relatively few internationally known river/building compositions in this country (others include Durham Cathedral, Warwick Castle and the Houses of Parliament). In this respect the intrinsic architectural quality of the theatre is of secondary importance to its fame. However, it is impossible to make a judgement on the actual impact of the proposals until there has been some output from the design process.

  23.  As regards any impact on the wider conservation area, it is important to bear in mind that the project brief includes no reference to works outside the immediate environs of the theatre village. Moreover, the breakdown of the £100 million budget included in it shows no specific provision for, or contribution to, wider enhancements of the waterfront area (as proposed in STAFS for example), or for visitor parking or improved access to the theatre area (eg the new pedestrian bridge). Unless critical improvements can be successfully funded and implemented, it is likely that the increased business activity of the RSC will place unacceptable strain both on the historic market town and on the environmental qualities of the green riverside areas.


  24.  The transport problems of Stratford-upon-Avon manifest themselves through the undesirable levels of congestion and pollution experienced in various parts of the town, especially during peak hours. There is increasing concern for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. The considerable number of visitors to the town exacerbate these problems.

  25.  The Stratford-on-Avon District Local Plan Review and Warwickshire County Council's Local Transport Plan currently set out a sustainable transport strategy for the next 10 years. The strategy adopts a new approach, which involves demand management and an emphasis on exploring the potential for all possible modes of travel. The strategy is objective-led, and the key objectives are:

    —  to reduce the rate of traffic growth;

    —  to improve the environment of the historic core;

    —  to improve safety of all road users;

    —  to reduce the impact of transport on the environment; and

    —  to widen travel choice by providing a transport system that promotes a fairer, more inclusive society.

  26.  To achieve the above objectives the strategy includes:

    —  effective management of the existing network;

    —  effective management of parking, including the introduction of new park and ride services and a decriminalised parking enforcement regime;

    —  promotion of environmentally friendly modes of travel;

    —  integration of land use and transport, including utilisation of brownfield land; and

    —  promotion of travel awareness.

Issues for consideration raised in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre redevelopment proposals

  27.  The RSC proposals comprise some imaginative suggestions as to how access, especially for pedestrians, could be improved in the waterfront area. Consideration of these, within the context of the objectives of the existing transport strategy, will be included in the continuing work on the Local Plan Review (outlined in the section on consultation), to be held over the next few months. The transport issues to be addressed for this area include:

    —  how to provide a crossing of the Avon, south of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to facilitate easy access for pedestrians and cyclists;

    —  how to provide a sustainable parking (preferably a park and ride) facility to serve the Theatre without compromising the Council's objective to reduce traffic in the historic core of the town;

    —  how to improve the pedestrian environment on roads in the vicinity of the Theatre, including Bridgeway, Bridgefoot and Waterside, and how to manage any traffic impact upon the historic core of measures proposed to achieve this;

    —  how to improve access to and from the Bancroft Gardens and from the Theatre to any parking provision; and

    —  how to manage future vehicle access to and parking on the Recreation Ground area.

  28.  This list is not exclusive. Further issues might be identified as the debate proceeds. The most important thing is that the issues are considered in a comprehensive and integrated manner.

  29.  The District Council is confident that some additional proposals for the sustainable transport strategy will emerge from the consideration of these issues, and the District Council will work closely with the County Council and the Royal Shakespeare Company to identify specific schemes and identify necessary funding.


  30.  The District Council is committed to full and effective consultation in all matters relating to the future of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the surrounding public realm.

  31.  The brief for STAFS required stakeholder participation and two workshops were held—one at the outset to set the scene for the study, the second before finalisation of the work to review and prioritise the findings. In both cases a half day facilitated event took place. These events were well attended by representatives from the public sector and business, with attendance by important amenity, wildlife, and residents groups as well. Representations from these workshops helped shape the study and were taken into account in the final report.

  32.  The next step in relation to the wider proposals for the public realm and waterfront areas will be to prepare a Master Plan for consultation. The Master Plan will be prepared jointly by the District Council and the County to take forward key ideas from STAFS along with other work that is underway on the transport strategy. It is expected that the Master Plan will be published for public participation in September 2002 with responses reported back to the District Council for consideration in late-Autumn 2002.

  33.  The theatre proposals and the public realm are subject to new policies set out in the First Deposit Draft of the Stratford-on-Avon District Local Plan Review 1996-2011 (extract of Policy SUA11 appended). This Draft Plan is currently on formal public deposit and all representations will be considered when the formal six-week consultation has ended. It is intended that the District Council will publish a Second Draft of the Plan for public comment in the Autumn of 2002.

  34.  Clearly RSC will submit applications for planning permission and listed building consent in relation to each phase of their proposals. Currently applications are expected in May 2002 for The Other Place and in September 2002 for the main theatre. These applications will be subject to full public advertisement and consultation. All representations will be considered by the District Planning Authority before it forms a view on the proposals.


  35.  This paper sets out the District Council's response to the Select Committee's six questions. In summary the response is:

How does the Council view the redevelopment plans?

  36.  The District Council is actively working in partnership with the County Council, the RSC and others to develop a fully informed view on the RSC proposals and to prepare and take forward proposals for the adjoining public realm. Public consultation is an integral part of the approach. The District Council is not opposed to the principle of redevelopment but has set out a range of challenging and specific requirements that will need to be met if the RSC proposals are to be supported.

Is it necessary to virtually demolish the main theatre? Is the listed building worth preserving?

  37.   The need for demolition and the issue of preservation are interlinked. The case for the demolition of the main theatre will have to be considered as part of a comprehensive assessment against PPG15 and in the light of planning and listed building consent applications.

How does the Council view the wider plans to create a theatre village?

  38.  The decision of the District Council to jointly commission and take forward the STAFS work illustrates that the authority accepts there is a strong case to actively pursue the wider plans which include a theatre village.

What participation has there been in developing the transport strategy?

  39.  The RSC transport strategy and the associated public realm work is still in the course of preparation and will be subject to public participation in due course. The overarching Transport Strategy in the Local Transport Plan has been subject to separate consultation processes carried out by the County Council. The Local Plan Review Strategy is currently subject to formal deposit.

What response has there been from the local community and how have local people been involved in the decision making process?

  40.  An effective consultation exercise has been carried out in connection with STAFS. A comprehensive programme of consultation is planned in relation to the proposed Master Plan for the waterfront area, the Local Plan Review and also in relation to the individual planning and listed building consent applications that will be submitted in due course.


  41.  The RSC proposals and the associated vision for the public realm represent an exceptional opportunity for Stratford-upon-Avon and the decisions that will need to be made will profoundly influence the future of the town, with far reaching implications for the regional and national economies. There is a great deal at stake, and yet a considerable opportunity to be seized. The Council is determined to secure the long-term future of the RSC and to protect and enhance the whole waterfront area. It wants to create a world class public realm with a strong identity built on the character and history of Stratford-upon-Avon. This vision depends upon a successful future for the RSC theatres in the town.

1 February 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 March 2002