Plans for a new theatre in Warrington to boost the borough’s arts scene have been taken off the table, it can be revealed.
An ambitious proposal to explore possibility of converting the former drill hall into a performance venue with around 400 seats was revealed in September.
The site, on Bath Street, is part of the Town Hall footprint.
Cllr Dan Price (IND – Great Sankey North and Whittle Hall) was leading the charge on the new site.
But he stepped down from his position as portfolio holder for culture and partnerships on the cabinet in April after quitting Labour over its stance on Brexit.
Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden (LAB – Birchwood) says the authority needs to have a ‘bigger plan and vision’ for the Town Hall estate.
But, for now, it will not include a theatre.
Cllr Bowden said: “I think we got a lot of energy behind the City of Culture bid and I think it has been really good in terms of establishing again, for some people, what Warrington’s cultural identity is.
“Also, it is about looking at more than just bricks and a building – actually, what is our cultural offer in the town?
“I think there are a lot of issues around the proposal (drill hall), it was an exciting proposal.
“We brought in external advisors to look at business plan etc, the level of investment for a project in there is significant.
“What they are basically saying to us is maybe have that as an ambition in the longer term but actually establish the evidence base, actually get more performing theatre here in Warrington with the dramatics groups etc and use that as a stepping stone proving the business case and, hopefully, justifying significant expenditure at a later date.
“But in terms of a new theatre, as a building, it is clearly off the table at the moment.
“In terms of theatre, as an entity, in terms of performance and dance etc, I think that is very much still alive and well.
“What we need to look at is how we can support that particular community here in Warrington with flexible space, maybe looking again at the Pyramid and Parr Hall and what the offer is there.
“There might be a much smaller investment in the short term to provide that kind of space as part of a longer journey.”
Cllr Bowden also highlighted the importance of having an asset management plan for the Town Hall estate which he says features ‘fabulous buildings’.
He added: “What we have clearly got to do with the Town Hall and Bank Park is look at the asset.
“We also need to think about the best ways of delivering income and value for Warrington.
“For me, this should be the number one place to get married in Warrington.
“We need to look at how we can open up the Town Hall for the community and the town.”
But the comments have sparked a response from Cllr Price.
He says the public, arts community, stakeholders and arts professionals stated ‘loud and clear’ that they wanted a functional theatre space during the City of Culture bid and the subsequent Cultural Commission talks.
He added: “The council’s own research said people living in Warrington spend around £4.5 million on ticketed cultural events each year.
“The research also said Warrington’s most visited artform is theatre and plays and that £2.3 million, that’s over 50 per cent, leave the town for a cultural offer.
“Everyone leaves this town to access theatre and plays because we fundamentally lack a theatre space with wings and the flexible staging that theatre companies require.
“If theatre shows can’t perform here, we can’t buy tickets and watch them here.
“Our am-drams have told us this, professional touring companies told us this, those working for Pyramid and Parr Hall told us this, theatre-goers told us this, and if that wasn’t enough, the research told us this.
“The council has decided to ignore all of the town’s voices and its own evidence, listening instead to ‘external advice’ – what a sad state of affairs.
“It’s incredibly short-sighted and totally unambitious – this cannot become Warrington’s reputation.
“So, I’d like to appeal to our residents who so often achieve what others say isn’t possible.
“We’ve got the evidence, the community groups, the theatre professionals and the paying audience.
“I want to share everything that’s been produced with those who wish to make a theatre in Warrington a reality – just get in touch with me and let’s prove the doubters we can make it happen.”
To contact Cllr Price e-mail email@example.com