PLANNERS will make a third attempt to rule on a controversial proposal which could endanger the expansion of the Kingsgate Centre.
Councillors will decide today if the Palace Theatre can be converted into student flats, a bar and a restaurant.
W D Huddersfield already has planning permission to demolish most of the historic Venn Street building to make way for a £40m extension to the nearby Kingsgate Centre.
The expansion would create 23 new stores and up to 900 jobs.
Simmy Sekhon, who bought the empty Palace Theatre last year, has asked Kirklees for permission to convert the building into 87 student flats.
The Leeds-based property developer also wants to open a bar and restaurant on the ground floor.
Kirklees Council’s Huddersfield Planning Sub-committee has twice delayed making a decision on Mr Sekhon’s application.
In April councillors voted to defer to give officials time to assess the traffic impact of the plan – despite Kirklees officers saying this was unnecessary.
The following month the sub-committee again delayed making a decision after receiving a late submission on a corrupted computer file.
The simulation shows an HGV stopping to unload at the Palace Theatre and causing tailbacks on to the nearby ring road.
But council officers have analysed the computer models on the disc and dismissed the findings.
The council’s Highways Development Management “highlighted concerns on how the models represented driver behaviour, with no realistic interaction between lanes.”
A report to councillors adds: “Detailed assessment of the traffic signal data upon which the models are based found data and assumptions used in the production of the models to be incorrect.”
Council highways officers believe an HGV would have to be parked outside the Palace Theatre for 30 minutes before it caused traffic to back up on to the ring road.
Highways officers conclude: “The proposal is ideally located for its intended use. Its proximity to the university campus and town centre make the location highly sustainable.
“It is considered that the development will not result in any undue highway safety implications or materially impact upon the capacity or safe operation of the local highway network.”
Planning officers have recommended that the sub-committee back the conversion proposal.
Kirklees has received five letters of objection to the plan.
The lack of parking spaces at the Palace Theatre would lead to an increase in illegal parking.
The development would “adversely affect the viability of existing operations in the town centre and place significant numbers of jobs at risk in the retail centre”.
The proposal “does not incorporate any cultural element” such as a small cinema or music venue.
Scaffolding around Venn Street during the conversion work would put jobs at risk in the Kingsgate Centre.
Parents coming to collect their children at the end of term will cause “chaos” as they search for parking spaces.
The sub-committee will rule on the proposal at its monthly meeting at Huddersfield Town Hall from 1pm today.
Mr Sekhon wrote to sub-committee members this week asking them to consider his plan on its merits.
He wrote: “I respectfully remind the councillors that there is a duty to vote individually and not by way of a political bloc vote – as has appeared to happen at previous meetings.”
Mr Sekhon added that, if planning permission is granted, work will begin quickly.
“Should the application be approved I can confirm that we have secured funding to enable construction works to commence within three months and we have a main contractor in place to undertake them,” he wrote.
“We have negotiated final contract prices and commencement start dates, subject to planning.
“Any hearsay that this application is solely to gain an increase in value for the property and subsequently offer it for sale is without foundation.”
The original Palace Theatre, on the corner of Venn Street and Kirkgate, was built in 1909 and hosted top acts, including Harry Houdini. The theatre burned down in 1936 but was rebuilt the following year.
It became the Palace Casino in 1962, Palace Bingo Hall in 1978, Chicago Rock Cafe in 1998 and, finally, the Society nightclub until 2010.