TODAY the Chronicle launches a campaign to fully reopen Chester’s much loved Gateway Theatre to provide a focus for the arts following news its replacement is on hold for up to eight years.
The city has been without a theatre since it closed in February 2007, before the deal was sealed to deliver the Northgate Development regeneration scheme which includes new shops and a performing arts centre.
Now developers ING say construction work on the £460m scheme is unlikely to begin until 2012 because of the credit crunch, with the Gateway’s replacement likely to be built near the end of the project.
A theatre is essential to the cultural life of the city, our civic pride, and essential to achieving the stated aim of making Chester a must-see European destination for visitors and tourists.
There is cross-party support for the campaign from the city’s Labour MP Christine Russell to Chester City Council’s Tory deputy leader Cllr Stephen Mosley, along with people on the ground like Sue Harrison of Chester Festivals, Tip Top Productions who continue to use the Gateway’s studio theatre and Richard Thomas at Chester Racecourse.
Reopening the Gateway is an option being considered by city council Tories, although about £1m would have to be spent to bring the auditorium up to standard, including replacing the seats and equipment sold off by the previous Lib Dem-Labour administration.
City MP Christine Russell said: “We have to offer, at the very least, the basics.
“If a family is visiting Chester and wants something to do in the evening there needs to be somewhere they can walk to where they can see a live theatre performance and, hopefully, they could see live music too.”
She said the Gateway was also needed as a home to amateur groups.
Deputy council leader Cllr Stephen Mosley said of the Gateway: “It was wrong that it shut.
“It was closed too early, before the new scheme even had full planning permission.”
He said his colleagues and officers were exploring reopening the Gateway and the possibility of erecting a temporary venue – like a large tent and stage used at Liverpool’s King’s Dock – to host events.
Sue Harrison, who is to take over the chair at Chester Festivals, said: “We desperately need a cultural venue in the city centre.
“If the simplest way is to refit the theatre, which I understand is around £1m, then maybe we should get on with it. A new venue will be a long time in coming.”