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Eccles Crown Theatre: New plans to knock down historic Salford building for 95 flats, shop and ‘community space’

Developers Foregate Limited have lodged new plans with Salford City Council to demolish the entire of the derelict former Crown theatre on Church Street in Eccles.

In its place would be a seven-storey apartment block with a 1320sq ft retail store and 3270sq ft of ‘community space’ on the ground floor.

SalfordOnline.com has been following the decline and fall of the once-grand Victorian theatre for the past 7 years.

It’s an object lesson in how not to save historic Salford assets.

Watch: Fears over failing future of Eccles Crown Theatre

Watch: Bulldozers move in on listed Eccles theatre

In the plans are 45 one-bed and 50 two-bed flats, some with balconies facing an internal courtyard.

There are only 44 car parking spaces – of which four are disabled spaces – to the rear, along with 42 cycle spaces.

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There are no plans to provide any of the flats for affordable rent or sale.

Normally Salford Council will insist on 20% affordable housing – some 19 flats here.

But the developer’s Viability Assessment says: “After undertaking detailed work, it has been concluded that no affordable housing can be provided onsite.”

“It tests varying levels of provision…and considers viability without the costs of retaining the historic façade. None are viable.”

Access to the car park would be from the small, one-way Mather Road.

Even the Victorian façade – once considered sacrosanct – would be demolished under these plans.

The developers will need Listed Building Consent to knock this down.

“The building is Grade II listed but benefits from a grant of planning permission dating to September 2008 which established the principle of the loss of all but the façade,” they say.

“Partial collapse of the top section of the façade is likely within 12 months.”

Their argument is that: “Historic England has already accepted that the existing Grade II listed building, with the exception of the Church Street façade, may be demolished and replaced with residential dwellings.

“Additional cost of the repair to the façade is 25% to 30% greater than that in 2007.

“The significance of the façade and return of the Crown is limited, comprising some aesthetic value and very minor illustrative historic value.. The façade is structurally fragile [and] is not worthy of retention, and no substantial harm will be caused,as its significance has been largely lost already.

“It is therefore proposed to replace the facade with a contemporary, landmark building.

“The substantial public benefits of redevelopment in economic, environmental and social terms clearly outweigh the minor benefit of retaining a heritage asset with very limited significance.”

The red-brick terracotta building, which fronts Church Street/Liverpool Road, has been in a terrible state of repair since it closed in the 1980s.

It opened as a The Lyceum, a Shakespearean theatre, in 1899 but changed hands in 1907 and converted to a cinema in 1932, then a bingo hall in 1963.

It’s glory years were in the 1930s when it was well known as a variety hall with seating for 2,500, with three tiers of intricately-detailed seats.

In 2005 it was bought by Geoffrey Klein, a production manager with Paramount Studios, with the intention of converting it into apartments.

Three years later it was sold to Bolton-based Westgate Developments, who did little-to-nothing with it.

A structural survey by Manchester-based Millson Associates found: “The ceiling structures are now completely unstable…and the whole structure is now dangerous.”

Rainwater pouring through the damaged roof has rotted floorboards to the point where over 60% of the floor is structurally unsound, while external brickwork has been irrevocably damaged.

Local residents have long complained about the appalling state that the owners have left the site in, with rubble and rubbish covering the rear car park, poor-quality fencing blown down in high winds and never replaced.

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Planning documents state: “The applicant has worked hard to secure the site and frequently repairs and enhances site security measures at considerable cost.

“However, it proves very difficult to deter youths and squatters who constantly target the property. As a vacant building, it attracts much anti-social behaviour which is of great concern to local residents and councillors. This proposal seeks to establish a viable, active use on the site, which will resolve these issues.”

The Crown is currently subject to a forceful local community campaign aimed at restoring and revitalising the once-grand Victorian theatre into an open arts hub for Eccles.

A petition for local support is already drawing lots of attention, and volunteers have repainted the frontage on Liverpool Road in the hope of bringing the community together to save this once-grand space.

SalfordOnline.com set up the Help Save the Crown Theatre Eccles Facebook group in 2012, later handing over control to community campaigners.

Pictures: Mural kickstarts Eccles Crown Theatre Campaign

Included in the drawings are two small community rooms, which would have separate entrances on the ground floor from Liverpool Road.

The plans can be viewed at the Salford City Council planning portal website under the application numbers: 15/66647/FUL, 15/66648/LBC

The applicants are Foregate Limited and all planning documents are provided by Manchester-based Indigo Planning.

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.