Theatre to get safer handrails

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SCARBOROUGH’S restored Open Air Theatre could have handrails fitted if councillors approve the plan on Tuesday (April 12).

The refurbished venue was officially reopened last May by HRH The Queen and this week it was announced that Elton John will perform there in June.

But one initial criticism which was raised about the design of the auditorium was that the elderly or visitors with mobility problems when climbing the steep seating tiers.

The issue is due to be discussed by members of Scarborough Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday (April 12) and a report has been prepared by projects manager Chris Bourne.

In his report he said: “Cabinet is recommended to approve the installation of additional individual handrails at the Open Air Theatre in the sum of £47,000 to be funded from the Capital Contingency Reserve.

“They would provide additional assistance and support to the elderly or visitors to the Open Air Theatre with mobility problems.

“There is a risk of accident to the elderly or infirm with mobility problems accessing the tiered seating at the Open Air Theatre. There is a risk of claims for compensation or legal action against the council in the event of an accident.”

The cabinet initially agreed to proceed with the redevelopment of the historic venue at a meeting in October 2009 and work was completed by May 2010 – in time for last year’s summer season.

Mr Bourne said: “During the first season of operation of the Open Air Theatre, while there were no reportable accidents, the council did receive a small number of complaints regarding access to the tiered seats – particularly from elderly patrons or those with mobility problems – who found the incline of the slope too steep.

“The Open Air Theatre was an existing theatre, which had stood derelict since 1985, and therefore in reconstructing the theatre the council was constrained by the existing infrastructure and particularly the topography of the slope.

“However, notwithstanding these site constraints, it was essential that it was constructed to modern standards which are set down in legislation.”

He added that the theatre had been designed fully in accordance with the current edition of the Guide to Safety in Sports Grounds – the current standard covering that type of venue – as well as with the building regulations.

According to the regulations the venue could be fully evacuated within eight minutes, using the 1.2m wide staircases, in the event of an emergency.

In his report Mr Bourne said that the council had investigated a “concessionary measure” of installing hand holds for all steps. He added: “The architect has come up with a solution to install an individual tubular handrail at the end of each step.”

Under the proposal the rails would measure 40mm in diameter, on galvanised steel posts, and would be finished in a coloured polyester powder coating.

Mr Bourne said: “The individual handrail would be installed to one side of the stairs only. This would allow for the elderly or those with mobility problems to slowly descend the steps using the handrails for support. In addition it would leave the opposite side of the stair free for more mobile patrons to gain access and leave more quickly.”

The installation would require 204 units – at a cost of £210.16 per unit – at a total cost of £42,872.64 and Mr Bourne said it was reasonable to allow £47,000 to allow for any unexpected items.

Once a decision is made it is expected that it would take eight weeks to manufacture the rails and a further fours weeks to install them at the venue.

Open Air Theatre factfile:

• The Scarborough Open Air Theatre was originally opened by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932 and officially re-opened by The Queen, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, on Thursday May 20, 2010

• The new theatre boasts 6,500 seats making it the largest operating open air theatre in Europe

• Before the theatre closed it was known for the musicals it staged with casts of up to 200 people

• The house record, set in August 1952, was an audience of 8,983 but an unofficial 11,000 was claimed for a free recording of It’s a Knockout in the 1960s

• The last musical performed was West Side Story in 1968

• In 1977 the dressing rooms and stage set building on the island were demolished and the seating removed

• In 2008 planning permission was approved for a major restoration as part of the North Bay Project

• Work started on the open air theatre site in 2009 after the council gave its backing for redevelopment in October 2008.