THE latest act in a lengthy drama over the historic Alexandra Theatre in Newton Abbot will be played out next week – and it may not end well for a community group that wants to redevelop it.

Teignbridge Council planning committee is being advised to reject plans from the theatre’s Charitable Community Benefit Society for a new atrium extension for a bar and cafe.

Supporters say it is part of a long-awaited revamp, and the new facilities will help the theatre pay its way. There have been 122 letters in favour of the application and just two against.

But council officers say the new atrium will harm the appearance of the building and hide some of its most distinctive features.

The ‘Alex’ dates from the late 1860s and was built together with the adjacent Market Hall.

A balcony was added in the 1920s along with other extensions. The cinema was split into two in 1998. The building was listed in 1972.

The society wants to restore a single theatre/auditorium space within the existing two-screen cinema/theatre and build the atrium-style extension to the southern side of the building for use as a bar and cafe.

The council’s conservation officer says the application will harm the exterior of the building, although that harm falls into the official ‘less than substantial’ category. The officer says it will spoil the symmetry of the building and obscure some ‘irreplaceable’ windows.

The Victorian Society and the Theatres Trust have also raised concerns.

Officers also say the application lacks a detailed business case explaining why the theatre needs the new bar.

The report acknowledges the widespread public support for the plans, saying they would create a cultural ‘hub’ for Newton Abbot and become a regional focus for entertainment and culture.

But it says the public benefits of the scheme are ‘modest and uncertain’.

It sums up: ‘The reason the application is recommended for refusal is not because officers do not agree with the broad intention and ambition of the proposal, but because the specific detail of the proposal fails to address planning policy adequately.

‘The applicant provides no evidence that the southern extension is necessary to the commercial viability or deliverability of the theatre restoration project.

‘The financial argument for the southern extension is not there.’

In January, the community benefit society released a spectacular ‘fly-though’ video showing how its plans could look. It believes government money left over after a town centre multiplex cinema plan was scrapped could be spent on the revamp.

Cllr Richard Daws (SD Alliance, Ambrook) said at the time: ‘It would be of massive benefit to the town and district.

‘If the Lib Dem-run council are able to switch funding to the town’s vision of the Alex remains to be seen, but I fully anticipate that in the fullness of time, by one route or another, the Alex will become the arts centre for the district and benefit the health and wellbeing of the town for generations to come.’