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Agenda item

Call-In of Economic Regeneration and Leisure Decisions of Hazlitt Theatre Options


The Councillors that had signed the call-in referral form were invited to address the Committee.


Several public speakers were invited to address the Committee. Katie Penn on behalf of the Young Performers; Michelle Cleverley; Jacob Amos; Darren Clark; Scott Raffle as Chairman of the Willington Players and Secretary to the Hazlitt Theatre Users Association.


The Head of Regeneration and Economic Development introduced the briefing note within the context of the Council’s Strategic Plan Review. The Committee agreed in September 2020 that the Economic Regeneration and Leisure (ERL) Committee would consider the Hazlitt’s contribution to the town centre economy and options for its sustainability. The theatre had been closed since March 2020, with the members of staff either furloughed or made redundant with the Council paying Parkwood Theatres an annual subsidy of around £245,000.


Between March to September 2020, the Council had increased their monthly payments to allow the theatre to re-open when feasible. The funding bid submitted by Parkwood Theatres to the Cultural Recovery Fund had been unsuccessful, with a waiver against their contractual obligations until March 2021 requested. It was noted that despite the positive news of vaccine development, a high degree of uncertainty still remained when considering the Council’s subsidy payments. The ERL Committee had considered all available options.


Councillor Harper addressed the Committee as Chairman of the ERL Committee. The importance of the theatre to the local economy and community was heavily referenced, with the desire to re-open the theatre when feasible highlighted. The impact of the arts and culture industry on resident’s quality of life and the benefits of community engagement were identified. It was noted that the ERL committee was unanimous in their decision, with an all-Member briefing having taken place in October 2020 to provide further information on the Hazlitt Theatre. Suggestions of alternative uses in the short-term were provided.


During the debate, the benefits of deferring the decision made by the ERL Committee were referenced. This included that since the decision was taken, several potential vaccinations had been brought forward which could lead to a reduction in Covid-19 social distancing measures and that deferring the decision would provide further time to negotiate a reduced subsidy payment with Parkwood Theatres.  The unknown costs of terminating the contract in place and re-opening the Hazlitt theatre were highlighted in contrast to the proposed savings.


The Head of Regeneration and Economic Development confirmed that there was no financial penalty from ending the contract early and that the financial and time costs associated with contract termination had not yet been discussed with Parkwood.


The staff furlough and redundancies that Parkwood Theatres had implemented from September 2020 prior to the ERL Committee’s decision were noted. The importance of experienced staff was highlighted, in response to queries about the procurement process if the original decision was maintained.


The Director of Finance and Business Improvement confirmed that if the contract was not terminated, the proposed savings would need to be found from elsewhere within the Council’s budget.


The Chairman of the ERL Committee addressed the Committee before the vote was taken and questioned the contract’s suitability in a post-Covid-19 environment. The commitment to re-open the Hazlitt theatre was reiterated.


RESOLVED: That the four resolutions of the Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee on 12 November 2020 concerning the Hazlitt, be substituted with the below resolution:


That the matter be deferred until the Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee meets on 19 January 2021, so as to allow greater clarity on issues such as external sources of funding and Covid-19-related developments and to facilitate further Member and Stakeholder engagement in determining the best method of retaining the Hazlitt for years to come.


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