Britain unveils measures to save theaters

The British government on Sunday announced special measures to prevent theaters and concert halls from falling victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With changes to the country’s planning system in the coming week, cultural institutions across England will be saved from being redeveloped or demolished, said British Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick.

“These buildings cannot be easily replaced and are an intrinsic part of our cultural heritage, which is why the government is clear that temporary social distancing restrictions should not be an excuse for them to be permanently lost,” said Jenrick.

Town and city councils under the new rules will now need to take the temporary impact of coronavirus into account when considering permission for change of use, redevelopment or demolition of a theater, concert hall or live music performance venue.

The new move comes after the British government announced a package of some 2 billion U.S. dollars earlier this month to help the country’s renowned arts and cultural institutions hit by the pandemic, some of which warned that they may never reopen without support.

The Sun newspaper said this week many theaters have been plunged into economic turmoil by the shutdown, with some smaller theaters warning they may never return.

Shakespeare’s iconic Globe Theater in London was among the famous British institutions calling for a lifeline.

The theater was said to be in danger of closing permanently if it did not receive adequate funding to make up for losses from coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The Old Vic, another iconic theater in London, was reportedly also facing financial collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Theaters in Britain were allowed to reopen from Saturday, but only for outdoor performances.

“Our theaters, concert halls and live music performance venues are the envy of the world and are central to our cultural heritage. It is vital they are properly protected by the planning system for both people today to enjoy and future generations,” Jenrick said.

The announcement was welcomed by Jon Morgan, director of the Theaters Trust.

Morgan said the revisions to the planning system will reinforce and increase protections for Britain’s treasured theaters and provide reassurance for the communities that use and value them.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has rendered otherwise vibrant theaters vulnerable to permanent closure and we have already seen a number of theaters fall vacant due to the operator going into liquidation,” said Morgan.

The new measures will help ensure vital community assets are protected during the current crisis and can be revived to serve their local communities once again, he added.