A 450-seat theatre in a Hampshire village is making a last-ditch effort to avoid one of its venues being shut down.

A government-appointed planning inspector is set to make a decision on whether Titchfield Festival Theatre can carry on using its 450-seat Arden Theatre which Fareham Borough Council said was built without permission.

The Planning Inspectorate kicked off an inquiry on Tuesday (May 14), which is due to last three to four days.

It will decide if the venue in St Margaret’s Lane, Titchfield, can stay open.

Daily Echo: Kevin Fraser, artistic director. Picture: Chris MoorhouseKevin Fraser, artistic director. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

The theatre is making the last ditch attempt to stay open as it said it already had permission for the work to create the Arden theatre space but Fareham Borough Council (FBC) says it does not and was only to be used as storage.

In November 2023, the council served an enforcement order to close the charity’s largest theatre space, saying: “Without the benefit of planning permission, the material change of use of the land to theatre use (sui generis); and an engineering operation to excavate and create an underground area beneath the land.”

Artistic director Kevin Fraser, of the Titchfield Festival Theatre, has taken the case to the highest decision-making body, the Planning Inspectorate for a final decision which kicks off on May 14.

The inspectorate’s inquiry will hear statements from both sides including hearing the case for the appeal of the enforcement order, looking at historical planning decisions, and considering previous court judgements as listed on the inquiry timetable.

More than 160 representations have been made on the case with local residents throwing their weight behind the 450-seat theatre to stay open. 

One supporter said: “Titchfield community theatre is a wonderful community theatre that has allowed me to share my love of the theatre with my children. If the theatre goes, the real losers will be the community, the children and theatre lovers.” 

Another said it is an ‘outrageous political or technical challenge’.

An objector who owns a house on the road complains about the narrow St Margaret’s Lane where people park on white lines and the traffic congestion. They said: “The road is nothing like wide enough for this and downright dangerous.”