A FORMER social club has been given the green light to be torn down and replaced with a smaller venue in a move that will boost sports teams but lose the Waterside its only big performing arts space.
New Forest District Council’s planning committee approved replacing the “eyesore” Holbury Club, off the A326 Long Lane, with a sport pavilion and garden.
It has lain empty since 2016 following the collapse of the organisation that managed it, Waterside Sport and Social Club.
Members rejected pleas by some councillors, local musical theatre enthusiast Christopher Wortley and the Theatres Trust to reject or delay a decision.
They had mooted the idea of giving the landowner and applicant, Fawley oil refinery operator Esso, the chance to revisit the plans to incorporate a theatre space.
Since opening in 1951 the building had featured a cinema, theatre and performance space enjoyed by various amateur groups until it was padlocked in 2016.
Supporters insisted there was a demand for live theatre and comedians, which they said would intensify when the pandemic ends.
“This also has a local heritage which is significant,” Theatres Trust officer Tom Clarke told the committee, adding he believed Esso failed to “truly appreciate, assess or investigate” its potential benefit.
That view was backed by several committee members, including Cllr Rebecca Clark. She said the theatrical space was a “cultural asset” and it would be “unconscionable” to lose it.
Cllrs Sue Bennison, Hilary Brand and Anne Corbridge agreed but their stance was defeated as 14 committee members backed Esso’s proposal.
Speaking for Esso, planning agent Simon Downing said it had decided it would “cost far too much” to rework the current building and maintain a theatre space.
He claimed demand did not justify a performance space, the site had been repeatedly hit by vandals, and Esso had already gone to “considerable” expense removing asbestos from the dilapidated building ahead of demolition.
Esso, he said, wanted to go ahead with the overhaul which features a new, smaller sports pavilion and community garden, as well as more parking spaces. The company maintains all the sports pitches there for cricket, football, hockey, bowls and tennis.
“We believe the proposal is the most sustainable way forward for the site,” Mr Downing said. “It is far more aesthetically pleasing and provides the community with a sports facility for many years to come.”
The scheme had been supported by 118 people as well as Fawley Parish Council and Hampshire County Council.
There were 18 objections including Christine Talbot, musical director of the Waterside Musical Society. The Health and Safety Executive had also objected but members were told that when NFDC had asked for clarification there had been no response.
While committee members sympathised with those lobbying for a theatre space, they felt they could not turn down the proposal.
“It’s a shame,” Cllr Arthur Davies said. “But we have to be realistic. This is a good scheme, although it does not cover everything.”
Cllr Anne Bellows added: “People have had four years to do something about this and nothing has been done, and now this does need to go and what has been proposed is workable.”