Labour’s Cllr Nick Blackwell has said the Conservative promises to quickly eliminate all council taxpayer subsidies to the planned new theatre in Southborough are “very unrealistic”.
Mr Blackwell also says the Conservatives leaders have: “gone out of their way to pretty much alienate and hack off everybody who has ever been associated with the Royal Victoria Hall”, which would also hinder any efforts to set up a volunteer trust to run productions in the future.
Here is the remainder of the interview transcript with Mr Blackwell (below), with a link to listen to the audio at the end.
Q: The plan is for the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells to provide professional technical expertise for this new Hall. Do you think, given that they are the professionals, that they will actually make the Hall busier, more viable than it was before?
A: Well, it remains to be seen because of course we read about these things in the Courier. We get them second and third hand. So, we haven’t seen exactly how that’s going to operate. The thing to remember is that you don’t make money from local arts. You know if you look at the Assembly Hall, it has a massive subsidy. I think it is about £ 225,000 a year of subsidy. Trinity £ 50,000.
Q: Cllr Oakford said he would be able to organise it so there would be no subsidy after 3 years.
A: I think if he could do that, he could probably package it and sell it to every arts organisation in the country. I think it’s very unrealistic. You are going to have to subsidise the arts. The Royal Victoria Hall – yes was subsidised – but it provided a service for the people of Southborough. We are not out to make a profit. We don’t want to be irresponsible with the tax payers money, but whether it is a bowls club or a theatre, these are local amenities that are run for the benefit of the community of Southborough.
FROM 50520 (Second Tape at 1’30”)
Q: Can Cllr Oakford get the volunteers who used to work on the Victoria Hall involved in this new professional theatre?
A: Well they have gone out of their way to pretty much alienate and hack off everybody who has ever been associated with the Royal Victoria Hall. We had a fantastic base of volunteers, experts – some of them with national and international expertise – who were willing to give up their time and energy to work with the Hall and the local community and over a period of 18 months, they have managed to upset pretty much everybody. And you can see that from the letters that were written in from the planning application and the representations that were made to the Town Council. So if they are hoping to run a Trust model (after the 3 years with the Assembly Hall in charge), where are these people going to come from? Because they have really burnt all their bridges.
Q: What about the design of the new building? Cllr Oakford did say to me that he quite liked red brick and perhaps that could be part of the design but he would leave it to the experts at KCC. What do you think of the designs as they stand?
A: I think at the moment, they look cheap and nasty. It is one of those “off the peg” public sector builds that you can see right across the country. I can see it is cheap, but does it relate to Southborough? Does it have anything to do with our locality? It is the kind of building that you see popping up all over the place from Milton Keynes to South Croydon. It’s going to look like what it costs to build. And this is a cheap build and it will look like it.
Q: So, what do you hope will happen next?
A: I hope that people will start to listen. People will start to respond. People start to be a little more accommodating. Perhaps I hold out a bit of hope because we have been told there is another architect who has brought on for the last part of the project. I think everybody is suitably unimpressed with what has been offered up from Pick Everard…. They still have a chance to turn this around, but they have got to start listening to people and actually making changes. If they just carry on with this headstrong – we’re just going to ignore you – demolish the Hall prematurely, we’re not going to get anywhere.
Q: Could they come up with a scheme that kept the Hall but also delivered the Hub benefits of the other community buildings?
A: Of course they could. But there has got to be a will on the part of the project board to actually listen and work with the people in the town. I am sure this is not a project that is beyond the wit of a group of architects and town planners. I know when we had the original brief from Allies Morrison, they put forward some excellent suggestions about incorporating the historical with the modern and making them work sympathetically. And I think a lot of people in the town were really energised and excited by that. That was within the last 3 years. They started the project and then they moved off the scene when KCC came in. We got Pick Everard and we’ve got this thing that looks like a pre-fabricated industrial unit. Not good.