Theatre grant would only cost £1.60 each

By James MortlockA COUNCIL has said it would only cost taxpayers less than £2 a year more to fund a theatre's restoration project.St Edmundsbury Borough Council has been asked by the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds for £1.

By James Mortlock

A COUNCIL has said it would only cost taxpayers less than £2 a year more to fund a theatre's restoration project.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council has been asked by the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds for £1.5million towards the restoration project.

The council said if it agreed to the request, taxpayers would only have stump up an average of £1.60 a year more to fund the handout.

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A spokeswoman said the cash would come from the council's capital reserves and only the lost interest - which would work out at about £56,000 a year at an interest rate of 3.75% - would be lost.

“This works out at approximately £1.60 a year for an average band D Council Tax payer,” she added.

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Borough councilor, David Nettleton, has said the council would be “deservedly lynched” by its residents if the £1.5m grant was given towards the ambitious £6.4m plan to restore the theatre to its full Georgian splendour.

He stood yesterday by his claim taxpayers would each face a £40 hike in bills if the cash was not taken from reserves.

“They are trying to be clever with the figures. By taking the money out of the council's reserves of some £80m they will lose the interest on that money permanently,” said Mr Nettleton.

“That will cost the taxpayer that £1.60 for years and years - once that money is gone, they can't get the interest anymore and my electors will still be paying for it in 20 years' time.”

Mr Nettleton, who has been invited to the theatre by bosses to view the plan, felt the renovation scheme should be paid for by theatre-goers rather than the Council Tax payer.

The councilor said he would accept the invitation to look at the theatre's plan, but doubted he would change his position on the request for the £1.5m.

In a letter to playhouse bosses, he said: “I have no objection to your renovation, merely your request that the council taxpayers contribute £1.5m rather than your 77,000 patrons.

“In your next mailshot to these patrons, why not ask for a contribution of £19.50 towards your restoration fund? I'm sure that many of your patrons are also St Edmundsbury residents, but some are not.

“If the £1.5m comes by way of Grant Aid, those patrons who reside outside the borough will enjoy the benefit of your restoration free of charge at the expense of the local taxpayers, many of whom cannot afford your prices.

“Some, of course, will have little or no interest in the theatre, shocking at that may seem.”

Mr Nettleton added: “The borough council already contributes £88,400 annually to the Theatre Royal, which is about £2.40 per band D property.

“Why should those of my electors, especially those on low incomes, subsidise you further?

“If I go to watch Ipswich Town play football, I pay the full market price for my seat. Yet I regard Portman Road a theatre, with the leisure element equal to what you offer.

“But I don't think anyone other than I should pay for my enjoyment. Do you agree?”

Theatre bosses said the request for £1.5m of taxpayers' money was a “reasonable” amount that would support a “great local resource” and benefit the whole community.

Judith Shallow, chairman of the board of management, said: “This scheme will have an impact on future tourism and the festivals we can put on at the restored theatre.

“We think it is reasonable to ask the borough to assist us and we think this is a reasonable sum to ask it to contribute as the theatre is a great local resource.

“We do a huge amount of work in the community, such as educational programmes and tours, and we encourage access as widely as possible.”

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