Stage fright for the Empire

The Hackney Empire suffered a blow on 17 February, when objectors to its property-development proposal persuaded Hackney council’s planning committee to defer the application.The much-loved and well-lovable 1901-built theatre, once known, strangely, as the “Hempire”, had been carefully presenting a case via the media that its fate rested on the scheme’s being passed.

The Empire wanted a developer to erect a large brown building on conservation-area land it owns on the west side of Sylvester Path (above), a small pedestrianised street that began life as a track used by drovers bringing cattle from Wales. Some 17th-century houses and The Ship pub now sit on the eastern side. The building was to include offices for Empire staff, a café and more than 20 flats.

The Theatre Bar next to the Empire has been given over to a weekly souk. Will such tiny sources of revenue make much impact on the financial deficit?

Jean Field, who lives near the theatre, said residents objected to the quality and height of the proposed buildings. Clarie Middleton, chief executive, said the development would improve the financial viability of the Empire, which is closing because of the severity of its cash crisis. The application faltered when one of the objectors to the scheme pointed out that the planning department had stated that the plans seen by nearby residents and others had since been altered, thus devaluing the consultation. Once a councillor established that the planners had not consulted the conservation body English Heritage, even though a wall in Sylvester Path that faced demolition as part of the proposal had been erected in 1666, the fate of the application was sealed. It will be resubmitted to the committee on Wednesday 10 March 2010.

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