The £1.2 million scheme to redevelop the Neeld Hall in Chippenham has moved on to the next stage after councillors agreed to put cash aside for a planning application.

Chippenham town councillors want to turn the space at the back of the hall into a theatre with a professional standard stage and lighting, as well as raked seating.

There will also be a new bar, an orchestra pit and reception area. The council also wants a new entrance and foyer in Borough Parade.

The council has now agreed to set aside £45,000 to draw up full plans and a planning application, subject to getting the right encouragement from Wiltshire Council planning officers.

The council also wants to buy a disused shop unit in Borough Parade and convert it into the new entrance and foyer. The council has been consulting on the plans but has received just 45 responses from people in the town. Of those, roughly half have been in favour.

Adrian Jones, head of service delivery at the town council, said the biggest concern was the lowering of the stage, with several people expressing concern that it would reduce the capacity of the hall for catered functions.

However, he added that architects are confident that the same number of people could still be accommodated as the stage would be made of removable units.

He said: “We are almost looking at a scenario of comparing a bog-standard vehicle to a Formula 1 car [if the redevelopment goes ahead].”

But leader of the town council Andrew Noblet said he has reservations about the cost of the proposals.

“There are plenty of cars in between a bog-standard vehicle and a Ferrari,” he said. “I have always had in the back of my mind throughout this process that we are living in times of austerity. If we announce that we are developing the facilities at a cost of almost £1.5 million, you might have people screaming protests from the rooftops.”

Mayor Andy Phillips said: “There are clearly two different camps here – those from the theatrical world who would love a decent theatre, and those from the community sector who don’t want to lose an invaluable resource.”