Audiences back Bath theatre's transfer to the community

  Posted: 10.06.21 at 13:46 by By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner

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Audiences have thrown their weight behind plans to transfer a Bath theatre to the community after an official challenge.

Next Stage Theatre Company has committed to spend £110,000 to fix the Mission Theatre’s leaky roof and deliver public benefits worth nearly £460,000.

If the deal goes ahead, the not-for-profit will see its £15,600 annual rent on the Grade II-listed building reduced to a peppercorn for 99 years – a loss to Bath and North East Somerset Council of some £1.5million over the course of the lease.

But independent, Labour and Conservative councillors have voiced concerns about a lack of scrutiny.

Leading the call-in, Councillor Colin Blackburn said the asset transfer “seems to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

Numerous readers have written to the Bath Chronicle in support of the Mission Theatre’s bid.

Hywel Thomas said: “I would appeal to the council to not throw away such a much loved Bath institution, but seize this opportunity to further the aspirations of a thriving, modern looking Bath.”

Next Stage’s business plan says none of its shows have made a loss in the last 25 years, and in the last 16 years it has invested more than £180,000 in the historic building.

It has already raised more than £30,000 towards fixing the roof.

Cllr Blackburn said the ongoing investment showed the current rental arrangement was working, adding: “It is understandable that we as landlords want to be fair and supportive of our tenant and create a financial mechanism to reimburse these roof repair costs but committing to forgo circa £1.5million of rental revenue over the next 99 years seems totally disproportionate to support the situation.”

Theatregoer Brian Howe said there was another financial consideration: “If rejection of the bid now resulted in the company handing the building back, the council would be burdened with a £110,000 bill for roof repairs, and with very limited potential to offer tenants, since grade II-listed building conditions limit extensive changes.

“Councillors certainly have a duty to protect the city’s finances, but they are also responsible for preserving important elements of its artistic/cultural heritage, rightly famed worldwide.

“As the Mission Theatre has proved both its cultural contribution and its ability to maintain the building, it should be given the opportunity to develop as the bid suggests.”

Officers said the building’s £695,000 open market value would be slashed to £152,500 if it can only be used as a theatre and there were sufficient social, economic and environmental benefits to allow a community asset transfer.

Rosemary McEwen said it would be a shame if councillors prioritised the theatre’s monetary value over the benefit to the young people of Bath.

Next Stage Theatre Company member Marion Wood said: “The Mission Theatre is a huge asset to the members of the Next Stage Theatre Company and all the members of the public who have supported it both as audience members and with financial help.

“With the grant of a community asset transfer it will continue to flourish and contribute to the cultural life of Bath.”

The call-in will be heard at a scrutiny panel meeting on June 14.

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