Taxpayers 'will not pay' for theatre

OFFICIALS have vowed taxpayers will not foot the bill if a bid for £1.5million is approved to restore a Suffolk theatre to its former Georgian glory.St Edmundsbury Borough Council has produced a range of options for providing the Theatre Royal with the cash it needs to complete the £6.

OFFICIALS have vowed taxpayers will not foot the bill if a bid for £1.5million is approved to restore a Suffolk theatre to its former Georgian glory.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council has produced a range of options for providing the Theatre Royal with the cash it needs to complete the £6.4million project - all of which, they say will have no effect on council tax bills.

Councillor David Nettleton, has said the theatre, in Bury St Edmunds, is "robbing the poor to give to the rich."

He said the council would be "deservedly lynched" by taxpayers if the grant was provided, with annual bills for householders throughout the region rising to meet the outlay.

But the council has insisted the four options available to members will have no effect on tax levels. The council's cabinet will decide on which option to pursue next Wednesday.

The options are:

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nTo award the theatre a grant of £1.5million from capital reserves while cutting the annual grant St Edmundsbury awards the playhouse to offset the loss of interest.

nTo offer a loan of £1.5million at a cheap base rate, resulting in no loss of interest to the council, and continue with the annual grant of £88,000.

nTo give a grant of £500,000 and a loan of £1million, while reducing the council's annual grant to offset the loss of interest.

nTo offer a grant of £1million and a loan of £500,000 while reducing the annual grant.

Andrew Varley, cabinet member for the arts and culture, said: "In this financial climate, with so many burdens on the taxpayers and so many demands on St Edmundsbury's resources, making such a large grant in a way which adversely affects council tax is clearly not acceptable.

"Officers and I have been working hard to identify ways of reconciling the Theatre Royal ambition with financial reality, and a number of options have emerged which allow us to help the project without adding to the council tax.

"Any one of the options will help the theatre achieve its ambition. One would assume after an investment of £6.4million, the venue will have greatly increased its income and so will be in a position to benefit from one of the alternatives on offer.

"We have a duty of help such an important local institution, but have a greater responsibility to all the council tax payers of the borough."

Plans for the theatre include introducing state-of-the-art facilities into the Grade 1 listed building, which dates back to 1820. A lift for the disabled, new bar and catering provision will all be fitted. A plan to mount the stage on a hydraulic platform has also been suggested.

Colin Blumenau, theatre director said: "Once the council has had their meeting we need to find out what it is they are going to offer and will have to negotiate the conditions with them.

"We have a long way to go in terms of fundraising but we do depend on the borough coming in and helping us.

"I am incredibly sympathetic about how difficult it is. I would say I do think the Theatre Royal is a completely unique building that happens to sit within the council's portfolio.

"It's an important building architecturally and historically and is a very deserving case but I accept the problems we have with the levels of council tax."

Lottery bosses awarded the theatre £50,000 in September to allow further research into décor and architecture to take place before a larger sum of £2m is released.

The National Trust has already pledged £500,000 to the project, but the playhouse is relying on public generosity to secure another £1.9m through donations and fundraising activities. That leaves the theatre needing another £2m, from councils and arts boards.

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