Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT) have quietly submitted a planning application to East Hampshire District Council for the redevelopment of Alton’s historic Allen Gallery, and the public have only days left in which to submit objections to the council’s planning department.

Basically, HCT are planning to gut the interior of 10-10a Church Street, left to the town by the Curtis family, and they have completely ignored the extensive feedback they received during their “public consultation” last summer. 

This will result in the loss of gallery, community AND retail space, and will destroy the unique character of the building – which in turn could jeopardise the long-term viability of the gallery itself.

The HCT’s summer “consultation” was confused, inadequate and poorly publicised, but I do know that a substantial number of views and ideas were put forward; first and foremost was the need to keep the current L-shaped gallery for exhibitions and events, and the waste of space and money by moving the kitchen and toilet areas. (The only formal “community-wide” consultation was a private, invitation-only drinks event for local politicians and selected organisations and which excluded the very volunteers who run the gallery on a day to day basis!) 

HCT’s current planning application shows clearly what many suspected; that the consultation was a tick-box exercise, and it proves HCT has little genuine interest in the gallery or its users. HCT are experts of obfuscation, describing vague aspirations in fashionable jargon but with no solid basis of fact, viability or need; hence their complete lack of interest in Altonians’ views.

I have contacted our local councillors, who are very supportive, to ensure this is called to committee and so we have an opportunity to speak; we need residents to lodge their written objections quickly so that the plans (ref: 22966/003 and /004) can be amended before it is too late. 

We all agree the fabric of the building needs serious attention, but this important, historic gallery does not need to be (in HCT-speak) “redeveloped / reimagined / revealed / rediscovered/ reclaimed / reinvigorated / reinvented / repurposed” – the only “re” words we want are respect for what we have, repairs to the fabric, and further research to understand it more fully.

We are a nationally important ceramics collection, but will soon be a dumbed-down, much reduced “leisure opportunity” if HCT get their way.

Please let’s keep the soul of our gallery alive by making our objections known swiftly to our councillors and the EHDC?

Denise Backhouse 

Harp Avenue, Alton

Editor's note: Find out more about the Allen Gallery's redevelopment here.