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Jimmy Carr show suspended at Orchard Theatre in Dartford over concrete fears

A popular theatre has been forced to close after reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was discovered in the roof.

The Orchard Theatre, in Home Gardens, Dartford closed its doors today (Tues) following an inspection yesterday (Monday).

The Orchard has been forced to close
The Orchard has been forced to close

This was carried out after the Department for Education confirmed 156 schools across the country had to close after ceilings built with concrete had collapsed.

Trafalgar Entertainment has confirmed the performances will be postponed until at least the end of September.

This includes Jimmy Carr, who was due to appear on Friday, an evening with Harry Redknapp on September 24 and Babatunde Aleshe on September 30.

Customers could still buy tickets to Jimmy Carr’s show moments before the announcement was made.

Leader of the council, Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con), said: “It’s not the news that anyone wants to hear but there is nothing more important than the safety of the audiences, staff, artists, volunteers and everyone at the venue.

“This problem was embedded in the building at the time of its construction in 1983 and it is one of thousands of buildings built using this construction method.

“Although any closure is a blow, we are in the fortunate position to have the resources and determination to put the building right and reopen it for the benefit of residents.

“Both Dartford Borough Council and Trafalgar Theatres are committed to making the necessary adaptations required as soon as possible to allow performances to recommence.

Council leader Jeremy Kite
Council leader Jeremy Kite

“We, and our partners at Trafalgar Theatres, know this will cause inconvenience and disappointment, but the safety of our customers and staff is our number one priority.”

Dartford council has been commissioning regular surveys of The Orchard. In April, specialist consultants reported facts in the RAAC panels in the theatre’s roof were ‘not significant’.

The council still began planning to replace panels in the ‘medium to long term’ in line with the consultant’s advice.

However, a routine inspection carried out in line with the most recent industry guidance on Monday changed that.

A recommendation to close until such time as further surveys could be carried out and a solution identified.

“We will be contacting existing ticket holders to reschedule performances or to reimburse them...”

Helen Enright, COO of Trafalgar Entertainment and CEO Trafalgar Theatres, said: “Once the time frames become clearer we will update customers as to the status of the future programme and would like to reassure customers that their money is safe.

“We will be contacting existing ticket holders to reschedule performances or to reimburse them. There is no need for customers to contact the theatre and rest assured that we will be in touch.

“Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as we work through the different considerations.”

The venue, which has been open since 1983, has back to back shows until the hugely popular pantomine which is due to start on December 9.

RAAC (reinforced auotclaved aerated concrete) is a material used in construction in many buildings between the 1960s and 1990s.

In recent days its presence has been confirmed in a range of public sector properties across the United Kingdom including seven schools in Kent.

Cllr Jonathon Hawkes (Lab), leader of the opposition at Dartford Council, is worried about staff jobs at the theatre as well as the prospect of a wider issue impacting other council-owned buildings.

He said: "It’s clear that after 13 years of the Conservatives our public buildings are crumbling around us. It’s another symptom of the sticking-plaster politics we've seen from the Conservatives.

“Our priority must be the safety of the public, so it’s right that Orchard Theatre should close until people can be sure that it’s safe.”

He added: “Labour are also asking for guarantees that the brilliant staff at the Orchard will be protected during the closure. Nobody should be losing their job or suffer a loss of income as a result of something that isn’t their fault.”

And he is demanding an audit of other council buildings in Dartford “to access the scale of the problem”.

Seven schools run by a Kent council have been revealed to be affected by the crisis sparked by the discovery of potentially unsafe concrete.

Two of the seven - Palmarsh Primary, Hythe and St James Church of England Primary, Tunbridge Wells - have had to close.

Remedial work is being carried out on the others. The five other schools are Sunnybank Primary, Sittingbourne, Godinton Primary, Ashford, St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School, Swanley, Birchington Church of England Primary, Thanet and King Ethelbert Secondary School, Thanet.

More reaction as we have it.

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