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The regs: Places of public entertainment

This month Geoff Wilkinson looks at the building regulations that apply to places of public entertainment

The Shed, a temporary set-up at the National Theatre, featured on pages 32-41, requires consent under Entertainment Licensing Rules, as well as building regulations. For those unfamiliar with licensed premises, the rules extend significantly beyond the normal requirements and can come as quite a shock. When deciding to grant or vary a premises licence under the Licensing Act 2003, the licensing authority will impose conditions which it considers are necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives.

Current guidance provides pools of conditions (although not an exhaustive list), which relate to the four licensing objectives and which could be used where necessary and appropriate to the particular circumstances of an individual licensed premises. The guidance states however, that it is important that conditions should not be applied universally and treated as standard conditions irrespective of circumstances. In most cases the council will review the premises against the Model National Standard Conditions for Places of Entertainment (the ‘Yellow Guide’) though there is no obligation to use these and some authorities will consider alternatives. The key issues are:

Seating

The rules on fixed seating in rows can be quite restrictive. The rules say that seating assigned to each person should be not less than:

(a) 760mm deep where backs are provided to the seats or 600mm deep where backs are not provided;
(b) 500mm wide where arms are provided to the seats or 450mm wide where arms are not provided

The technical regulations only permit seven seats in a row with an exit at one end and 14 seats in rows with exits at both ends. This can be increased to 11 and 18 by increasing the width of the seatway (the space between rows of seats with the seat in the up position) by 25mm per additional person.

Gangways

Gangways should be of adequate width for the number of seats served but should in no case be less than 1,050mm wide, and there should be no projection into the gangway which would diminish its clear width. The ends of all rows and seats should be aligned to maintain a uniform width of gangway throughout its length.
A continuous handrail should be provided on each side of all stairs, steps, landings and ramps at a height of not less than 840mm and not more than lm (a second handrail need not be provided to stairs less than 1.05m wide). These need to be designed very carefully to avoid obstructing the sight lines of the seated audience. The guarding to the ends of gangways at the front edge of balconies where there is no fixed seating needs particularly careful design.

Toilets

One of the main considerations in designing licensed premises is the need to provide adequate numbers of toilets. The approved documents still make reference to an out-of-date version of the British Standard 6465 which was revised in 2009, to recognise the need for increased provision where the performance has an interval. Assuming an audience of 100 males and 100 females, the 1994 version required two urinals and one WC for males and four WCs for females. The 2009 version increased this to three urinals and two WCs for males and six WCs for females, which is a lot of additional space to find if you miss it first time.

Furnishings

Building regulations control wall and ceiling linings, but do not normally extend to furnishings such as seats or drapes. This is another area where the rules for public entertainment are different. Any furnishings or coverings within the licensed area should be either durably flame proofed or inheritently non-flammable. Durably flame proofed is an interesting definition and requires chemical treatment to render it flame-retardant so even after wetting or cleansing it retains performance to British Standard 5438 Tests 2A and 2B with a 10 second flame application time in each case.

Geoff Wilkinson is an Approved Inspector .An updated Yellow Guide will shortly be available from the Association of British Theatre Technicians.

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