IN the wake of Teignbridge District Council (TDC) passing a motion at full council on July 26 which, in addition to much else, will see TDC ‘consider afresh options for the Alexandra’, the Mid-Devon Advertiser sought reaction from key parties.

An opinion, which has been expressed by several people on various occasions to the Mid-Devon Advertiser, is that this move by TDC amounts to back-pedalling.

It is perfectly true that TDC’s original plans for the Alexandra had supporters, however to say those supporters constituted the majority of public opinion would be, if a petition with more than 6,500 signatures calling to save the Alexandra is anything to go by, disingenuous.

It would not be unreasonable to say that it was, perhaps, under estimated as to how beloved the Alexandra Theatre is to residents in and around Newton Abbot.

Vocal, persistent and determined opposition to the plans put forward by TDC sprang up almost immediately, with councillors and community groups leading the charge, buoyed up by support from the public expressed via the petition above mentioned.

Regardless of the opposition, or perhaps because of it, there is now scope, with the adoption of the motion, for the rear wall of the Alexandra to remain and for the theatre to endure.

► A Brand New Day or False Dawn?

Chairman of Friends of The Alexandra Theatre, Andrew Malcom, said: ‘Tuesday’s motion to pause the wanton destruction of the Alexandra Theatre came as a welcome surprise to many, but what has really changed?

‘It has been more than two years since we started this campaign to save the theatre and there is a tale of two sides.

‘On the one hand we have gathered an unprecedented amount of support with more than 6500 individuals signing the petition and a 2600 strong Facebook group, energising the community to voice their displeasure with the plan through social media, letter writing and the biggest public protest in Newton Abbot for decades.

‘We have run the campaign with dignity and high morality, always being open and transparent with our plans, actions, and thoughts.

‘On the other hand, we have the Executive of TDC who, of course, attempted to appear genuinely interested in our thoughts and feelings.

‘This position slowly slipped backwards, akin to a lumbering elephant faced by the humble yet mighty mouse, retreating as quickly as possible when genuine challenge and questioning became too difficult to face.

‘The Executive finally stopped answering our questions and refused to talk anymore, citing ‘differences that were too great to overcome’, and breaking a promise (for what that is worth) to include us in any future discussions.

‘They never quite ‘got it’ that we are in favour of regeneration, but not when it includes the cultural vandalism in their plan.

Protesters outside the Alexandra Theatre building
(Friends of The Alexandra Theatre)

‘So, returning to the question of what has changed?

‘In our opinion, not a lot, if anything.

‘At the meeting Cllr Connett created lots of noise and bluster aimed at pleasing the masses, but it was without substance and had nothing to do with the actual motion that was passed by a majority the members.

‘Indeed, the motion to retain the wall between the Alexandra Theatre and the market and require the council, to consider the excellent plans drawn up by Jeremy Newcome was voted down.

‘Furthermore, there was no indication as to who would be invited to be part of the new consultations, and the one councillor above all others who has the knowledge, understanding and acumen to comment on a public ownership plan, Cllr Daws, was banished from this section of the meeting in a way in which Donald Trump would have been proud to orchestrate.

‘We are grateful to be working with NADMCS, the pro-Alexandra councillors, and the newly formed CBS where, collectively, there is a lot of knowledge, skill, passion, and power.

‘We do hope that this is a genuine opening where the council will listen to what the community need and want whilst taking seriously the plans presented by the CBS seriously, with a realisation that they really do offer a realistic and viable solution which would both aid regeneration and develop significant cultural capital for the area, enhancing the Cultural Quarter principle.

‘If not, then I fear this False Dawn has a significant ‘red sky in the morning’ portent - that said, we fight on.’


David Austin, owner of Newton Abbot’s only department store, Austins, said: ‘The council meeting of last Tuesday 26th July to reconsider the Alexandra theatre could be the excellent news that so many people in Newton Abbot have been waiting to hear since the Future High Street Fund (FHSF) initiative was first announced.

‘The council are to be applauded for their most recent words, but of course it will now all depend on their future actions.

‘Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a positive journey for the town, with the potential to bring immense benefit to current and future generations of Newton Abbot and surrounding districts in which the role of Teignbridge District Council in this will be crucial.

‘Many extremely talented people from a variety of groups have committed an immense amount of time and effort considering how the Alexandra theatre can be retained.

‘The resulting “Jeremy Newcombe plan” has shown incredible vision and aspiration – we should now all work together to ensure that this plan is not only recognised and fully considered but is taken forward.

‘The Alexandra can then be retained, restored, and modernised as a treasured centrepiece for cultural and performing arts and as a hub for exhibitions, community activities and events, with the potential to bring people together from all walks of life.

‘The opportunity should not be missed.’


Cllr Mike Hocking said: ‘They are not saying it is a u-turn, some people are but I am just pleased that they have started to listen to people and that they have, as I said at the meeting the other day, they have opened the door slightly which they had previously shut and locked in front of us.

‘They have now opened it or at least cracked it open so it is now down to the people that have already done a lot of work in the area of the Alexandra and I am of course talking about Jeremy Newcombe, the Friends of the Alexandra and many others who have done an awful amount of work in putting together a business plan as well as costings.

‘They are well down the road to producing what I believe, and a lot of others believe, will be the best thing for Newton Abbot.’


Newton Abbot Mayor, Cllr Carol Bunday, said: ‘If Teignbridge District Council are going to u-turn I am more than happy with that, I don’t think Teignbridge realised there would be such an outcry about the Alexandra Theatre, whilst we need to move forward, we need to recognise that it is such a prominent building in our town.

‘If Teignbridge can meet people sort of halfway then yes, lets do it but there has got to be a compromise somewhere that will help everybody.’


Stalwart supporter of saving the Alexandra and leader of South Devon Alliance, Cllr Liam Mullone, said: ‘I would like the rest of the council to realise what this is and realise how important it is when their leader makes all these promises that are not in the motion and to then get people to pass the motion with none of those promises in.

‘They won’t even appear in the minutes - posterity won’t record that he ever said them.

‘This was done so they can put it in the deep-freezer until the elections are over.

‘They are encouraging people to think it is a u-turn or a rethink or any number of those things but there is nothing about having a rethink in the motion, there is nothing about saying: well this is maybe something we shouldn’t have done and maybe this is too unpopular, there is none of that.

‘There is just some vague stuff about it being not economically in step with the times which doesn’t mean anything by itself because it hasn’t been explained.

‘When they have come up with nebulous, meaningless reasons for stopping something, they only need nebulous, meaningless reasons to restart it again which means that all of this is just in abeyance until they decided it is safe and they hope to get another four years to do what they like in.

‘Councils’ always do their most unpopular work as soon as they are back in power because they have four years for people to forget about it.

‘Anyone looking at the timing of all this, submissions will come in June of next year and the elections are in May - anyone who doesn’t see the meaning and the timing of that is being naive really.

‘It is despairing sometimes how many times people have to learn the same lesson, this is what TDC have done for three years and it is what the Conservatives did before them.

‘Councillor elections seem very boring to most people, I understand that, so they don’t tend to look at what is going on until election times and they just wander in and go: oh Lib Dems, they’re alright aren’t they?

‘A five minute study of what they have done over the last three years would show them that they re really not alright at all.

‘What happened to Cllr Daws was absolutely shocking and it makes no sense.

‘Any kind of administration that interrupts its own rules ad hoc to suit its own needs: that is not a democracy.

‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s Russia or whether it is a tin-pot town council - it is the same principle.

‘If rules don’t apply to everyone equally: something has gone very wrong.’


A newly formed Charitable Community Benefit Society recently released revised plans which it says could redevelop the Alexandra Theatre into a ‘year-round live entertainment venue and community hub’.

It is calling on Teignbridge Council to reconsider its plans for the Newton Abbot venue.

One of the five founding directors, venue owner and Teignbridge District Councillor Richard Daws, said: ‘The society was set up as a reaction to the councils plans to demolish the interior of the Alexandra.

‘There seems to be a sort of unanimity amongst a number of councillors, amongst a number of business people in the town, amongst all the creative practitioners within the town that the council’s plan was a terrible idea.

‘As councillors we have tried twice to put forward motions to protect the Alexandra and realised that the council wasn’t going to do that and that the only way of actually protecting the Theatre would be to come up a plan that was on behalf of the community and by the community - the vehicle to do that is a Community Benefit Society.

‘It is the perfect model, I have transitioned one of my own venues into that model in the city of Bath between 2017 and 2019 and it is just a thing of beauty and it is a ideal that is rolling out around towns and cities across the UK.

‘I have been invited by the Theatres Trust, and this wasn’t me just joking as I left the council meeting, the Theatres Trust has asked me to come and speak at a national conference in October about it, in respect of: here is an example of how theatres and venues can operate in the future.

‘The harsh reality is that if you try and run the Alexandra as a private operator then you are exposed financially to any of those whims.

‘If a council runs it then it is very difficult for them to be able to create that sort of engagement with customers and with the artists who tour.

‘If you run it as a Community Benefit Society you create a sort of magic: You will get 200, 300 members who are owning the business who are essentially the shareholders, none of them have more say than the other, it is truly democratic so anyone who is involved on the board is there on the say so of the members.

‘The magic of it is you have those 300 members who are your stakeholders, your shareholders, your advocates, the people who market the theatre and anything that goes on around it, all of their networks, so you haven’t got a small team of three or four trying to get the message out, you have 300 people who the have all their friends and family spreading the word.

‘It is sort of what councils should be but somehow ours isn’t - they have become a quite large, bureaucratic beast and then you end up with factions where one party will go off in one direction and quite literally not listen to anyone else.

‘I was thrown out of the meeting on what I would say is a very baseless and wrong interpretation of the rules and I would say that was done just because they could not be bothered to listen to me because they knew fully well I had a different view from them or that I might be critical of what they had done to date.

‘But that is the function of councils! They are there to be scrutinised, that is why we were elected.

‘A great many people are putting time, effort, skills, resources, contacts, reputation to it: David Austin has given his window over to an exhibition and nailed his colours to the mast, he is happy to associated with the CBS.

‘We still find it astounding that Teignbridge District Council are unable to listen but that was the whole reason for the CBS; we know they are not going to solve the problem so why don’t we get everyone together who we think has the skills and motivation to do it and we can come up with a plan.

‘Within that now, we are already in conversation with the Architectural Heritage Fund about funding support, one of the leading experts in Community Shares backing the project, we have a crowd funder down in Cornwall who wants to do whatever they can to assist us, we have Co-operatives UK up in Manchester who founded the society for us who will assist us, the Theatres Trust believe our plan is the best route because it doesn’t damage a heritage building and it brings it into its original use and we haven’t even started to have a conversations with Arts Council England or National Lottery Heritage Fund and then there will be other funds too.

‘My frustration is when they set up a steering group they didn’t want me, I threw my hand in the air and said I will help, I have done this before, I am the only person in the room who knows how to run a venue and they, on a political basis, they aid no which is not acting in the best interest of the residents.

‘The reason the CBS was set up was to be proactive and do something positive and that’s what we aim to do.’


LEADER of Teignbridge District Council, Cllr Alan Connett, said: ‘I believe that it would be possible to focus on the Market Hall as a market and the planned eatery.

‘This would enable the wall between the Alex and the Market Hall to remain.

‘If necessary, we could look at progressing the Alex outside the scope of the Future High Street Fund if that ensured we can deliver the Alex as a cultural and arts venue and the other parts of the proposals, the cinema, Market Hall and Queen Street improvements.

‘I know some want to say this is a U-turn - I don’t share that view.

‘In fact, we indicated a possible change of direction at the council meeting in February this year.

‘ Then , Councillors approved the budget for the Future High Street Fund plans, after my colleague, Cllr Nina Jeffries had included an additional proposal: that additional proposal was that the Council continues to engage and consult with regard to the design and considers the needs of the market and cultural hub/performance space through a new Steering Group… and that the council’s appropriate committees are regularly updated on progress.

‘This is the action of a responsible authority which is prepared to look at the best options coming forward - and react positively to them.

‘The council has been listening and I and my colleagues, believe we have found a way forward in which we can all work together.

‘So, what next? Council Officers have some additional work to do on the revised plan; and community Groups now have the opportunity to work-up or continue working-up their plans and proposals for the New Alexandra.

‘If we are, genuinely, to move forward, then revisiting old arguments and differences is not going to be a fruitful use of the time available for planning ahead and helping boost Newton Abbot’s trade and economy.

‘I simply say this, let’s all embrace the decision made at Teignbridge Council last week and crack on with the opportunities now before us.’