A COALITION of residents, councillors and organisations fear a planning meeting next week could mark the beginning of the end for Wallingford’s Corn Exchange.

In a long-running saga which is set to see eight new homes built next to the theatre, concerns have been raised that new residents complaining about noise could force the venue to shut down.

Some 754 individuals have objected to the plans since they were originally proposed more than 18 months ago, while 757 have signed a petition against A.C Lester & Son Ltd’s proposals for 4 Market Place.

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But at a planning committee meeting on Wednesday, September 4, councillors will be recommended to approve the plans, subject to noise-related conditions.

The Board of Trustees at the Corn Exchange – which has recently seen more than £700,000 spent on renovations – explained: “The Corn Exchange is necessarily noise-generating and this is not limited to ‘late-night noise’. Noise is produced by evening performances (and films), afternoon performances, rehearsals, all day activity in the workshop and in the auditorium on preparation, erection and demolition of sets. The noise is carried through external walls, the roof and is airborne.

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"Under present law, responsibility for managing and mitigating the impact of noise by noise-producing venues on neighbours falls on the business making the noise. Newly-arrived residents can complain about noise from existing businesses, sometimes forcing those businesses to close down."

The organisation has also expressed concerns about whether it will be able to access its roof for maintenance and that current parking spaces would become unavailable, ‘forcing performing companies to park and load/unload in Wood Street, causing congestion’.

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The group’s concerns are being echoed by three local councillors, who are all opposed to the plans.

County Councillor Lynda Atkins said: “It is a really, really important facility for the town and if you put residential properties sharing a wall up there may be problems. I don’t want people living in the new houses to be so upset that they try to get things changed.

“I find it difficult to see how it is not going to get really noisy at times. I don’t want to see a long-term battle between residents and the Corn Exchange which might see us lose this fantastic facility.”

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Wallingford Town Council and the company behind the project have sought to reassure the venue, but South Oxfordshire District Councillor Sue Roberts is not convinced.

She explained: “The Corn Exchange is at the heart of our community and has brought great joy personally to me and my family over the past 30 years.

“Whilst we are all happy to see new ‘infill’ dwellings that do not disturb the ecology of our area, it is of prime importance that no changes imperil the vibrancy of the town centre.”

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Dr Roberts continued: “The problem with noise may seem overblown and we know that the applicants have done their best to address the issue.

“(But) the problem lies with the law and with what we know has happened in other places at other times. Should new residents find themselves disturbed, there would be a risk to the Corn Exchange that could even lead to its closure."

Her district council colleague, George Levy, added that he would speak against the proposal at Wednesday's meeting, labelling the Corn Exchange ‘a great asset to the town culturally’.

But, speaking on behalf of Lester and Son, Carroll Architects’ Director John Carroll said the application, concerning ‘largely redundant buildings’ would ‘provide much needed housing’.

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He continued: “The concerns have been very carefully considered for some time by acoustic experts representing my client and the Corn Exchange. Following exhaustive monitoring of the site, both advisers agreed to a Noise Impact Assessment incorporating sound attenuation measures, that the Planning Officer and the Environmental Protection Team has also agreed as meeting all statutory requirements for the development to take place.

“(That) would be incorporated, by way of conditions, in any Planning Consent granted. The conditions will require testing to ensure compliance with the Assessment before occupation is permitted.”

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Wallingford Mayor Lee Upcraft, speaking on behalf of the Town Council planning committed, added: “I understand the concerns, but there is a provision in national planning legislation which means that new developments cannot reduce the viability of an existing business, which basically means the new residents have no grounds to complain.

“The council looked at this and said that as long as this is made clear to the applicant, and that the sound engineers’ recommendations are fully implemented, we cannot see that there are grounds to object in terms of planning policy.”

For more information, visit South Oxfordshire District Council's planning register and searcg P17/S3579/FUL