Time has run out for the Melrose action group formed in a last-ditch bid to retain the town’s Wynd Theatre as a performing arts venue.
The planning committee of Scottish Borders Council has agreed to grant St Boswells-based artist Ken Rodgie consent to convert the building into a studio/art gallery.
Councillors considered 12 objections to the proposed change of use – 11 from members of the newly formed Melrose and District Community Arts Trust (MADCAT) and one from the London-based National Theatre Trust.
They also heard that Mr Rodgie had agreed a deal to purchase the theatre which staged its last production in April, 2014.
In a presentation of behalf of MADCAT, Susan Stewart said her group wanted to use new Scottish community empowerment legislation to buy the Wynd and maintain its role as a theatre. “Our aim is to provide a full, comprehensive programme of events throughout the year,,” said Ms Stewart.
She was supported by Councillor Simon Mountford who told colleagues: “This group should be given the chance to pursue its ambition and it would be a great shame to pull the rug from under its feet.”
However, planning officer John Hayward cautioned that the application could not reasonably be delayed, given the length of time the property had been up for sale. “I accept it is unfortunate this facility could be lost as a theatre but it would continue as an arts venue,” said Mr Hayward. “An art gallery could be considered of greater benefit to Melrose than an empty property.”
Mr Rodgie said he and his wife Lynn, a well-known landscape painter, ran a successful arts business from their home but now need to expand. He said his artist son Ker and father-in-law John Martin, who ran an art studio in Darnick for many years, would also be involved in the venture.
“The Wynd was closed as a theatre when I found it and realised it would make an ideal venue for the public, as well as dealers, to come from around the country to view and buy our paintings,” said Mr Rodgie. “We have the funds and we have a deal.”
The application was approved, subject to a condition that, should the studio/gallery cease to operate “the lawful use of the building shall revert to its previous use as a performing arts theatre”.
Mr Rodgie said he expected his new venture to be up and running by the spring of next year.