THE Ellesmere Port Pioneer has joined the campaign to bring the much-missed Gateway Theatre back to Chester.
We are backing our sister paper The Chronicle to fully reopen the theatre to provide a focus for the arts following news that its replacement is on hold for up to eight years.
Chester has been without a theatre since the Gateway 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.
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.
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.”
As our campaign in the Pioneer and on our website gathers momentum, we’ll over the coming weeks be explaining how readers can help.