Anger at ‘barmy’ plan to cut King’s Lynn Arts Centre theatre capacity

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Seating capacity in the Lynn Arts Centre’s main auditorium could be cut by up to 30 per cent if a planned £2.25 million revamp of the complex goes ahead.

The figure for the St George’s Guildhall was outlined during a presentation of plans for the King Street site to a West Norfolk Council committee this week.

But a leading figure in the area’s amateur dramatics world has described the proposals as “barmy”.

It emerged earlier this week that the authority plans to submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate the site.

Work contained in the project includes the planned installation of a new lift, to improve wheelchair access, and the removal of the current seating and sloping floor from the Guildhall.

Officials told Wednesday’s meeting of the borough council’s regeneration and development panel that the hall’s capacity would be reduced to between 250 and 280 from the current 350 under the plans.

But Chris Bamfield, the council’s executive director of commercial services, said there were only 41 evening bookings for the hall in the next year.

He said: “We’re saying basically there is so much more you could get out of that space in the centre of town.”

Culture portfolio holder Elizabeth Nockolds suggested the hall could also be marketed as an alternative wedding venue.

She said: “The town hall is already fully booked for 2017 and dates are being taken for 2018 for weddings. I think it could be another popular venue.”

And Avril Wright, the council’s heritage champion, said the plans must be sympathetic to the 1950s renovations made by Lady Fermoy and the Queen Mother.

But Amanda Arterton, vice-president of the West Norfolk Gilbert and Sullivan Society, said the hall, despite the need for renovation, was ideal for the needs of amateur groups in its current form.

She said she had been involved in shows at the venue for 46 years with groups including the King’s Lynn Players and the King’s Lynn Operatic and Dramatic Society (KLODS).

She said yesterday: “Why do we need another flat floor venue? I just don’t know who came up with that barmy idea.

“Lady Fermoy would turn in her grave, I’m sure. She was desperate to keep it as a theatre.”

But Mrs Arterton did welcome plans for the College of West Anglia to use parts of the complex for new courses it intends to offer in heritage construction skills, in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin University, from 2018.