STRUCTURAL work on the Palace Theatre is unlikely to take place for several months until full planning permission has been sought and granted, the charity refurbishing the building have revealed.
Heather Hunter, the chief executive of GO! (Great Opportunities) which is leading the Palace Project, said the team of dedicated volunteers have over the past few weeks cleared out the rear yard, emptied the old changing rooms and had been sweeping and cleaning “every nook and cranny possible”.
She said: “However, we are now at the point that there is little work that we can actually do other than keeping everything clean and tidy as our time limited planning permission came to an end in mid-November.
“We did all the things that we needed to do like mending the floors, making safe windows, and felting and battening the roof but we can do no more structural work now until we have sought planning permission.
“That said we will hopefully be able to gain any necessary consents to make the roof watertight in some other way as the felt and battening, which was all we were permitted to do under the listing, was no match for storm Gertrude and Henry and has resulted in the dome of the auditorium suffering serious damage.”
Heather said next month would see Dr David Wilmore – whom she described as “one of the country’s leading heritage experts” – write a heritage statement.
She said it was an “important piece of work and a definite milestone, as it will outline what has to be preserved and will indicate what we can and cannot do with regard to plans for the development.”
Once the charity has Dr Wilmore’s report they can “begin the real planning in earnest”.
In addition, the charity must acquire a full set of drawings of the building as it currently is, along with a new structural survey.
Heather said that while the charity acquired the Palace Theatre in May last year, the neighbouring Great Western hotel was not acquired until October. As a result the reports could not be carried out until both buildings were in the charity’s hands.
Heather admitted the project hit a small setback when inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive closed the building after the charity was unable to present its Asbestos report during an unannounced visit. As a result a new report was commissioned and secured.
She said: “It would be easy at this stage to become very frustrated as we have hundreds of volunteers itching to do some work but there is none that we can give them and sadly that is the way of a heritage project.
“We hope to have some of our permissions through by September to allow some of the proposed apprenticeships to be taken up but of course until there is work that we can do this won’t be able to happen.
“For the time being we are concentrating on raising funds for the upkeep of the Palace as it stands and keeping it wind and watertight until we can commence structural repairs.
“We are also allowing people to come and visit for a tour of building and anyone who wishes to come should ring the GO! office.”
New performances by the Palace Theatre Philharmonia and Chorus are being rehearsed with the aim of a number of summer proms along with other fundraising activities.
Heather said: “We haven't stopped work at the Palace, there is just little we are now able to do.
“We are taking this lull in building to create the opportunity to collect as much archive and memorabilia of the Palace which Plymouth people may have stored away in their lofts.
“We collect anything and everything from programmes to posters, photographs, newspaper cuttings and anything of interest.
“It will all be put into our museum of the Palace which will be installed in one of the rooms upstairs in the theatre. “Also, we keen to have any memorabilia about the Great Western Hotel for which we have very little in the way of information. So all contributions are welcome.”
The charity is currently running a survey about people’s hopes for the Palace Theatre at [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]