PLANS for a £1 million extension at Malvern Theatres got the green light this week from planners.

Members of Malvern Hills District Council's southern area planning voted overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme at a meeting on Wednesday night.

The proposal is to redevelop the facade of the building overlooking Grange Road.

The late 19th-century entrance canopy and portico is set to be replaced with a new entrance at ground floor level and a first-floor extension to provide an accessible dance and rehearsal studio, office space and other facilities.

The theatre complex is not a listed building, but it is within the Great Malvern Conservation Area and is close to many listed buildings, including Great Malvern Priory, The Council House and The Abbey Hotel.

The proposal is the biggest alteration to the theatres complex since the major development in the 1990s which saw major reconstruction and extension of the foyer area and the Elgar Hall, and the building of the new fly tower over the Festival Theatre, which allowed the theatre to host full-scale touring productions.

The latest scheme proved controversial, with the Victorian Society saying it will result in the "irreplaceable loss of important historic features".

Members of the public had also objected, but others praised the proposal.

At the meeting, Priory ward councillor Cynthia Palmer said: "The theatre complex currently stages more than 500 live performances, 700 film screenings and 350 workshops every year. The theatre has a turnover of around £5.5m with less than one per cent of running costs being publicly funded.

"With no ongoing financial support received from the Arts Council , the theatre is close to becoming one of the UK’s few financially independent venues."

Chief executive Nic Lloyd said: "Malvern Theatres is delighted to have received permission to go ahead with its plans to create a new dedicated rehearsal and creative learning space on the west, Grange Road, side of the building.

"The £1 million project, which has received substantial pledges of investment from Malvern Hills District Council, Arts Council England, The Kay Trust, The Backstage Trust and The Rowlands Trust, will enable the theatre to expand its existing programme of community work, including classes and workshops, as well as creating a much-needed rehearsal space for the venue.

"Malvern Theatres contributes an estimated £20 million to the local economy each year and this project will develop its reputation locally and nationally, creating an important new space for the arts.”