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Heated debate over future of Ark Theatre at Elstree and Borehamwood Residents Association
The future of a theatre set to be demolished as part of a school’s redevelopment plans was the subject of passionate debate at a residents’ association meeting.
More than 75 people gathered at The Ark Theatre in Thrift Farm Lane in Borehamwood for a public meeting of the Elstree and Borehamwood Residents Association.
A petition organised by the association to save the theatre from being demolished and rebuilt in 2016 has already gained more than 500 signatures and the future of The Ark was at the top of the agenda.
Committee member Lawrence Stack, who masterminded the petition, asked the school why it could not give some of the money from the sale of the Thrift Farm Lane site to build a theatre in the centre of the town.
He said: “The Ark was built with £2.4million of public money. We were promised a community theatre for the town 20 years ago and there’s more than enough money from the sale to build something like the Wyllyotts Theatre in Potters Bar, but the school wants all the cake itself.”
Another resident said he worried about the effect the loss of the theatre on the community.
He said: “We were promised a big new civic hall when the old one was knocked down. The community in Borehamwood imploded and it took a long time to be rebuilt. The theatre is only just beginning to attract new audiences. I’m worried when this place disappears, the community won’t recover.”
Other members of the public called the theatre “fantastic” and wondered why it could not be left where it is until a new one was built.
Chairman of Governors for Hertswood Academy Graham Taylor said he understood the “support" of residents for the theatre and their "angst” but there was no choice but to demolish and rebuild it on the other site.
He said: “Our school is falling apart, the flat roofs leak, the buildings are crumbling, it’s not good for the kids. It would cost £10million to renovate both sites and there’s no way of getting that money. The children of this town deserve an excellent school and the only way to do that is to sell one site to a private buyer.”
He said the school was the reason the theatre was there in the first place, and the school was committed to rebuilding it.
He said: “Without us there would be no theatre in Borehamwood. Four years ago we had our school hall converted and agreed it could be used by the community as well.
“The theatre makes a loss, it costs between £70,000 and £80,000 a year just to keep the doors open. Our parents say ‘Why are you spending the equivalent of three teachers on keeping this?'
“It is not true that we are filling our pockets. All the money we earn from the sale of the Thrift Farm Lane site will be ploughed directly into the new school.”
He said if the people of the town wanted their own theatre to be built in the centre of the town they would have to speak to the council, though he did not know where the money would come from.
Mr Taylor added: “I am more than happy to meet with the residents’ association and the borough and county councils to address people’s concerns and see how we might address them.”
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