Cellar faces threat of closure after fire safety concerns

The Council have ordered the venue to reduce its maximum capacity to 60 people

The Cellar’s future is again under threat after authorities ruled its fire escape is too narrow for the venue’s current capacity.

Oxfordshire County Council has ordered the venue to reduce its maximum capacity from 150 people to 60, as its 70cm fire escape is 30cm too narrow.

The club’s management have said that one events promoter has already pulled out from future work due to the impact of capacity reduction on the club’s viability as a live music venue.

The news comes just one year after The Cellar fought off plans to redevelop the site into a storage basement. The current capacity was agreed in the 1970s and has remained unchanged ever since.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service Fire Protection and Business Safety Manager, Dave Bray, noted that the venue’s “means of escape from the basement…was found not adequate for 150 people.”

The order reducing the number of possible attendees will remain in place “until the alternate escape route is improved,” Bray added.

The owner of The Cellar, Tim Hopkins, told The Oxford Mail that he was “shocked and frustrated” by the Council’s decision. The club takes “health and safety very seriously” but noted that it would now cost “tens of thousands of pounds” to upgrade the venues fire escapes to maintain the venue’s current capacity.

Hopkins suggested that one solution may be for Cellar to expand into the premises of the Lush shop above the basement venue, which has now moved into Westgate Centre. The owners of those premises have said that “no proposals” had been received for Hopkins’ possible plans.

Mr Hopkins told the The Oxford Mail that with staffing numbers considered, only approximately 50 tickets could be sold per event. As a consequence, one promoter has now pulled out.

Hopkins said: “There’s a lot of history and it’s been a stepping stone for a lot of bands. There is already a shortage of venues…to close a place of this size would leave a massive gap.”

“It’s used by breakthrough bands, students, different sections of the community and for fundraisers. But once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Hopkins added.

The Cellar has been open for at least 45 years. Hopkins notes it is “one of the oldest gig venues in Europe.” It has previously hosted breakthrough bands like Foals and Stornoway, as well as iconic names like Mumford and Sons and The National.

Last year, the property’s owners, The St. Michael’s and All Saints charities, sought to redevelop the basement. This led to a petition to prevent the venue’s closure, signed by over 13,600 people.

Nightshift Magazine have claimed that, ultimately, it “would be handy” for neighbouring property developers “if the pesky music people cleared off.”