World-famous opera company secures planning for major practice centre

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World-famous opera company secures planning for major practice centre

26 Oct 2020
Work on a major new practice centre for Garsington Opera and the Buckinghamshire community is due to get underway early next year. The internationally renowned opera company is to cover the cost of the projected £14m building through fundraising.
Garsington Opera, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has been based on The Wormsley Estate - the home of the Getty family - in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 2011.
However, a lack of practice facilities nearby has meant that opera rehearsals currently take place in ill-suited venues nowhere near the site, many of which will become unavailable in the future.
Now Buckinghamshire Council has approved planning permission for a new practice centre on the Estate, which will also be a major asset for the local community for eight months of the year.
The London office of national planning and development consultancy Lichfields secured permission, working in tandem with architects Nichols Brown Webber - both have worked with Garsington Opera for over 25 years.
Nick Thompson, Senior Director at Lichfields, said: “We knew from our previous work that a practice centre would require a compelling planning case, not least due to the location in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and adjacent to an Ancient Woodland.
“Garsington Opera reached out to the local community and the application was well supported by local schools, Chiltern Society, Buckinghamshire Cultural Partnership and Chilterns Conservation Board – many of whom complemented the highly attractive design of the building which draws on the style of the local Chilterns vernacular.
“We were pleased that the planning officer agreed with our analysis that this major development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is permissible in exceptional circumstances where it has been demonstrated that the development is in the public interest.”
Garsington Opera was founded in 1989 and has firmly established an international reputation for the high quality of its six-week summer festival.
Following its move to Wormsley, operatic and other performances take place in the award-winning auditorium.
Nicola Creed, Executive Director for Garsington Opera, said: “We are delighted to have secured planning permission. The practice facilities will create an integrated venue that creates a host of operational benefits which
will enable us to create productions of outstanding artistic quality. This is really important given the loss of rehearsal space elsewhere.
“We intend to use the facility for opera rehearsals for four months each year, and the remainder of the year the Practice Centre will be available for the local community and for commercial hire. It will be the home for Garsington Opera’s dynamic outreach programme - working with schools, local children and adults, hospital patients and many others – and for local performing arts clubs. Our next challenge is the fundraising, but we aim to be open in 2023.”
Andy Nichols, the architect for the scheme, said the new centre extends to nearly 4,000 sq ms comprising brick and flint, an oak structure and stained timber weatherboarding.
He continued: “The proposal involves replacing an unattractive agricultural building and silos with a high-quality, three-storey practice centre building.
“The project incorporates existing cottages, landscaping and ecological enhancements. The site constraints meant a very thorough analysis of the client’s brief and careful design to incorporate the key elements required by the opera company.
“As local architects we were delighted to work on this project for Garsington Opera and our approach, given the sensitive site, was to design in context for the Chilterns.”
The 2,700-acre Wormsley Estate, in Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire, was bought by the late Sir Paul Getty - world renowned cricket lover and philanthropist - in 1985.
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