Councillors claim a plans to sell Greenwich’s Borough Hall to a theatre company could eventually spell the end of Greenwich Theatre.
The council plans to sell the Borough Hall, on Royal Hill, for a “performing arts hub” and it insists the style of theatre would be drastically different from what is on offer at the existing Greenwich Theatre, on nearby Crooms Hill.
Councillors at Tuesday night’s regeneration, transport and culture scrutiny panel questioned whether the move would threaten Greenwich Theatre and if the hall – originally part of the old Greenwich Town Hall – could be redeveloped in other ways (from about nine minutes into the video below).
Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said: “Are we in some danger of creating cultural overkill?
“If another theatre company moves into walking distance of Greenwich Theatre, it would result, in my view, in having an affect on the future of Greenwich Theatre.”
Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams added: “I am concerned about our cultural strategy in relation to Greenwich Theatre.
“Worst case scenario – a new operator moves into the Borough Halls and the Greenwich Theatre dies. I wonder whether we need to get a strategy for what type of contracts we need to see.”
The council says redeveloping the hall itself would be too expensive and complex. It is negotiating with a production company and insisted the type of show at the Borough Hall would be different.
Katrina Delaney, the council’s director of communities, said: “It’s a different model of theatre. There has been analysis of what kind of productions they will be able to carry out.
“The business strategy of Greenwich Theatre is emerging artists – short run plays – the proposal for the Borough Hall is for six to eight week run periods for plays that will then be transferred to the West End.”
‘No impact on Greenwich Theatre’
Cabinet member for leisure, councillor Miranda Williams, added: “The cultural industry in London is one in six jobs. If we want to be a borough that is looking at generating employment for our residents these are the opportunities we need to look at.
“It’s up to Greenwich Theatre to put on shows that we want to go and see. I do not believe that by regenerating the Borough Halls it will have an impact on Greenwich Theatre.
“Turning the halls into something for which it is not designed would cost a lot of money and not do the building any justice whatsoever.”
Greenwich Theatre opened in 1969 after a campaign to save a former music hall on the site from demolition. Its main auditorium can seat 400 people.
The Borough Halls, close to Greenwich Station, was used by Greenwich Dance until last year. The building is riddled with problems including asbestos, which it is estimated would cost at least £10 million to fix.
Creative district ‘on budget’
Meanwhile, plans for the £31m Woolwich Creative District are “well within budget”, a Williams said.
The scheme will eventually feature artistic performance spaces, a courtyard, market area and exhibition zones.
Eltham South councillor Matt Clare said: “It is a significant envelope of £31 to £44m. I know we are still in the early stages but I hope there is a very detailed budget for such a significant spend – are we ahead or behind?
“If I am honest with you the upper number is terrifying when you consider everything else going on.”
Williams replied: “The project board meets fortnightly and at every single meeting we make sure it is coming in on target. It is coming in on target and we are well within budget.”
Council bosses also confirmed that the public will be asked for naming ideas for the area, but said it will have to feature “Woolwich”.
The council is planning to draw from the history of the area, including suffragettes and other influences, to name rooms.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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