Thursday 10 September 2105
Theatre costs are unrealistic
Yesterday I returned to Exeter after a day in Cardiff after preparing the sound equipment for the theatre tour of An Inspector Calls which starts in Dartford next.
I returned to see that your letters page contained yet another letter applauding the recent comments of Cllr Peter Holland who suggested that “the costs of a theatre in the city which could be in the region of £27m” [E&E, Exeter bus station pool critics argue theatre would be better for the city, 18 August 2015].
I won’t deny that a city-centre theatre could be built for about £27m – as this is the estimate from the Theatre For Exeter Development Group for a theatre with a capacity of between 800 and 1000.
So what I would challenge is that for £27m, Cllr Holland could deliver a 1200+ seater theatre capable of staging those large musicals he and many other correspondents seem to desire.
For the past 35 years I’ve worked in theatres across the country and around the world. During that time I’ve become used to turning dreams in reality – usually with little or no budget.
But a 1200-seat theatre for £27m on this development site – not even I can suspend that much disbelief.
I would suggest that at a minimum it would cost at least £47m to build such a theatre.
Councillors have already heard that we can cover the £26m project costs of the the new leisure complex without increasing our underlying need to borrow, and more importantly without increasing Council Tax of residents
I have been informed that Arts Council England are very unlikely to subsidise any new theatre build in the city, so that extra £21m WILL need to come from additional borrowing.
But with the cost of that borrowing relatively cheap for local authorities at the moment, that’s not the major problem facing anyone wanting to build a new theatre. The real financial burden is revenue costs – to actually run the theatre.
As a National Portfolio Organisation, Plymouth Theatre Royal receives revenue funding from Art Council England of £1.2m a year.
With ACE facing their own cuts from central government, I would suggest that it is very unlikely that any new venue in the city would receive anything like that amount of grant – especially as ACE already support many of Exeter’s arts organisations.
In addition, Plymouth City Council – as a unity authority – provide an annual subsidy the Theatre Royal to the tune of £600k pr year.
Plymouth Theatre Royal sees around half a million visitors a year – and many pay in excess of £50 a seat and still it needs massive amounts of subsidy.
Of course, there are other models of funding such theatres. Aylesbury Vale District Council pays a commercial operator – ATG – to run the theatre on their behalf. Yes, it’s cheaper – £350k a year – so could Cllr Holland or any of his Conservative colleagues tell me – and the residents of Exeter – which services they would cut to pay these sorts of sums?
So while I would love to see a such a theatre here in Exeter, I’ve looked at it from all angles for many years and still I can’t make the finances stack up. Every model costs ECC – and in turn, you the residents of Exeter.
That’s why I have supported the plan for a leisure complex, which will bring an income to the City Council.
With the leisure complex, we can ensure the health and well-being of our residents – while the income provided will ensure the health and well-being of the City Council.
And with that income, we can make plans for the future – perhaps even that 800 seater theatre elsewhere in the city centre?