A LEADING member of the new Cheshire West council says Chester cannot wait until a new theatre is delivered as part of the stalled Northgate Development.
Cllr Richard Short, culture portfolio holder, acknowledged that to do nothing would mean the city being left without a performing arts centre for a decade or more.
That’s because the replacement for the Gateway Theatre was due to be delivered as part of the Northgate Development but this has now been put on hold because of the credit crunch.
Cllr Short, speaking at a scrutiny committee of the authority, which takes over on April 1, said it was “a disgrace” there was no professional theatre within the district.
He added: “My ambition, you will see, is to deliver what I would call a decent theatre, or performing arts equivalent to it, with associated studio theatres within Cheshire West and I guess the attack ground would be in Chester and I would like to see that within a reasonable time-scale – a few years not 10 years where the Northgate Development would put it.”
Cllr Short believes temporary solutions are needed to fill the gap in the meantime but he dismissed the idea of reopening the Gateway.
“Since it has been closed, it has been checked and it does require an enormous amount of expenditure to repair the infrastructure. The seats were sold, all the fittings were disposed of. There’s no actual figure you can put on how much it would cost to restore it and reopen it but around about the £1-2m is the figure which is talked about.
“It seems to me that whatever happens in the future that would be rather dead money if we actually refurbished it and opened it up again.”
Cllr Short said alternative venues were being looked at such as the former Odeon cinema and the Mecca bingo hall but he seemed to favour the idea of setting up a large tent.
“What we are trying to do is find how we can obtain a temporary structure to provide a performing arts facility. What form this will take is not quite clear. But there are many temporary buildings that are a big step away from a classical marquee. We could possibly provide something which would be in the order of £500,000-600,000 and if that was in place for three or four years it would be money well spent in providing a decent venue.”
Cllr Short said the council was also working with arts organisations Chester Festivals and Chester Performs to provide activities in other locations although it has emerged that Chester Performs, which is funded by the city and county councils, is not holding its next major event until May.
Cllr Short acknowledged this was “something we need to address” to ensure the council was getting “value for money”.
“There are a number of places where we can have performing arts and theatre. It won’t be on the scale of what we had envisaged with a proper theatre but I think we can get these things to at least maintain and provide a cultural life for the city.”