Home For the record Imaginarium Bistro and The Roundhouse – The Facts

Imaginarium Bistro and The Roundhouse – The Facts

by Lisa Bennett

In response to a number of recent social media comments, Knowsley Council would like to clarify the situation with regard to the “Roundhouse Big Top”, which is located on the Piazza in front of Imaginarium Bistro in Prescot.

When the Council agreed to appoint Imaginarium as the operators of the Bistro, this was based on a clear agreement that Imaginarium would deliver a free events programme for the benefit of the local community and visitors into the town.  In return for arranging and delivering the events programme, Imaginarium do not pay any rent for the Bistro.

The Piazza space, where the Roundhouse is located, was created in order to host events and performances.  When Imaginarium were appointed, they informed the Council that they wanted to purchase a structure (that is now known as the Roundhouse) in order to weatherproof the events programme.  The Council agreed to that suggestion, and the Piazza was modified to accommodate it.

However, the Roundhouse was always supposed to be a temporary structure which could be put up and taken down so that events could be held when the weather was challenging.  It was always intended to be a facility to host events, and not an extension of the Bistro.  Furthermore, it was never intended to be a permanent fixture and the Council never agreed to have a permanent fixture in that place.

The Roundhouse was installed during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Imaginarium Bistro began to use the structure for dining (they had previously used a gazebo in the same way as a number of businesses across the Borough) in order to allow them to comply with “social distancing” requirements.

In doing so, Imaginarium Bistro decided to modify the structure to make it a permanent structure by installing wooden sides and flooring, as well as lighting and heating.  It now operates as an extension of Imaginarium Bistro – this was never agreed and was never the Council’s intention.

The Roundhouse does not have planning permission and the Licence Agreement which allows Imaginarium Bistro to use the Piazza requires the operators of Imaginarium Bistro to obtain any necessary consents and permissions for the use and occupation of the Piazza space.  Their failure to do so means that they have breached their Agreement with the Council which allows them to use the Piazza space.

Council officers met with the operators of the Imaginarium Bistro in May 2022 to advise them that they needed planning permission for the Roundhouse.  As the Bistro and Roundhouse are located in the Prescot Town Centre Conservation Area and close to St Mary’s Church (which is a Grade I Listed Building), Council officers believe that it would be inappropriate to retain the Roundhouse structure on a permanent basis – doing so would not conform with national and local planning policies which require the Council to protect these important heritage assets.  It is worth recording that, while some people have recently commented on social media that they like and enjoy the Roundhouse, the Council has also received complaints about it (it should be noted that none of these complaints have been from any representatives of the Church).

In an attempt to avoid having to remove the structure “for ever”, Council officers also suggested to the operators of the Bistro in February 2023 that it could be possible for them to use the Roundhouse for blocks of time during the year (such as at Christmas, Easter and the school summer holidays).  The operators of the Bistro claimed that such an approach would not be feasible and instead stated that they wished to operate it as a permanent building.

In February 2023, Council officers advised the operators of the Bistro that, if they wished to keep the Roundhouse in place for a further temporary period, they should apply for planning permission before May 2023 to keep it in place for a period of 12 months – after which time (if permission was granted), the Roundhouse would then need to be removed.

This suggested 12-month extension period was intended to give the operators of the Bistro time to plan their business without the Roundhouse and to ensure that any events or ceremonies which had been booked by customers would not be affected.

The planning application was submitted in August 2023 and did not contain enough for the Planning team to properly consider it.  The outstanding information was not received until November 2023 – some nine months after the initial request was made.

Given the delay in receiving a valid planning application, and the time which would be required to decide the application, Council officers and the operators of the Bistro agreed that the application would not be progressed any further and the operators agreed to remove the Roundhouse before 31 May 2024.

Imaginarium Bistro were informed by the Council from the outset that a permanent structure was not acceptable.  This position was reiterated almost two years ago when they were told that the that the structure could only be used on a temporary basis for the reasons outlined above, and that it was never intended to be a part of the Bistro.

The Council continues to grant Imaginarium Bistro a building on a “rent free” basis (in return for them delivering an events programme) and has also supported Imaginarium Theatre and Bistro by arranging and providing extensive storage facilities in a number of locations in the Borough, completely free of charge.