A COMMUNITY theatre is fearing closure if a planning committee doesn't grant permission to keep its changing room facility.

Hawkesbury Little Theatre, in Buckley, is facing an uncertain future.

On Wednesday, Flintshire Council's planning committee will decide on an application for the continued siting of a portable building the theatre uses as its changing room facility.

Despite it having been situated next to the theatre for the last 13 years, Flintshire Council's planning officers have recommended the application be refused. Officers say its continued presence would be "harmful to the character and appearance of the site". Next door to the theatre is Hawkesbury Hall, which was made listed building in 2017. Planning officers say the portable building will "adversely affect the architectural and historical setting".

Buckley Theatre Club performs pantomimes and plays at the Little Theatre in 1984. Securing a long-term lease from the county council in 2001 enabled many improvements to be made to the building including central heating, new toilets, and kitchen facilities. In 2017 LED stage lighting was installed and in 2018 new seating. Still performing plays and pantomimes, the club welcomes new members and, of course, its audiences. It recently announced it is putting on its first Christmas panto in three years following the Covid pandemic. 

The Leader: Hawkesbury Little TheatreHawkesbury Little Theatre (Image: User generated content)

Buckley theatre group treasurer, Peter Watkin, said a refusal of the application would leave the theatre facing almost certain closure. 

Actors have been changing into their costumes in the portable building that joins onto the theatre, which sits on the grounds of Hawksbury Hall next to Elfed High School off Mill Lane. Planning applications to keep the structure in place have been approved almost annually up until 2017.

He said: "We are a registered charity and the building has been here for almost 50 years. We were told that, because these cabins are technically only temporary buildings we can only have temporary planning permission so for years we paid for, applied and got that.

"Now, Hawksbury Hall next to us is a listed building and, in 2017, we applied for our usual permission - nothing happened, so it was just left. Since then, we didn't submit applications because, as far as we were concerned, there was one still current."

He added: "If we lose the portacabins, we then don't have any facilities for changing. Putting it simply, the theatre will have to close."

Peter added that many locals will have grown up with the theatre being present in the town. He went on to say that there is a "bleak" future ahead if the 150-seater theatre is forced to close up and move elsewhere.

The group have been putting on a panto almost every year for the last 20 years - with the only exception being during the Covid pandemic. However, with the closure threat hanging overhead, the group's upcoming performance this November and December of Dick Whittington could be its last.

The Leader: The cast of Buckley Theatre Club's production of Dick Whittington.The cast of Buckley Theatre Club's production of Dick Whittington. (Image: Newsquest)

Residents are invited to submit their comments to Flintshire Council via email to planningadmin@flintshire.gov.uk. They are able to do so until the day the planning committee meets on Wednesday, October 26.

Planning officer, Jenni Perkins said in a report on the application: "It is recognised that the siting of the portacabin has been deemed acceptable for a number of years by a flexible application of the planning balance. I consider however that ample time has passed to allow the Buckley Theatre Company to consider the erection of a permanent and appropriately designed extension to the existing building to cater for their requirements."

Dozens of Buckley residents have spoken in support of the theatre and its application. 

In a post on the Buckley Residents Group, people said a closure of the theatre would be "terrible" and "shocking". 

One person said: "This is disgusting. We cannot lose a vital community asset like this. Come on folks. Get in to action and bombard Flintshire County Council with your opinions."

Another added: "Bit by bit, Buckley will lose its identity."