Town Hall insiders are suspicious that Croydon’s Conservative-run council wants to get its hands on the £3.5 million which Ruskin Square developers Stanhope had promised for the redevelopment of the Warehouse Theatre.
Last week the council pulled the plug on a vital £30,000 grant for the Warehouse Theatre, forcing the independent venue into administration.
Council critics accuse Croydon of deliberately delaying the announcement until after the London Mayoral elections, so that the closure of the Warehouse would not adversely impact the campaigns of Boris Johnson and the local Tory Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell.
But with the favoured Fairfield Halls receiving millions of pounds of public money from Croydon annually, suspicions that attempts to divert the Stanhope money were raised after a seemingly throwaway remark by the councillor in charge of the borough’s diminishing cultural provision.
Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the Conservative councillor in charge of culture, told a Redhill-based weekly that the reason that the grant was withheld was because “the theatre could not demonstrate to us that they were solvent… we had no choice but to protect public money by not paying it to an organisation with such large outstanding debts”.
The amount of the grant for the Warehouse Theatre is barely two-thirds of the public cash paid to Bashford in her councillor’s allowances. There is no record of the Fairfield Halls ever having to demonstrate that it is solvent in the manner that was required of the Warehouse.
The matter of the Warehouse Theatre’s solvency is in any case a matter of dispute, as the financial records filed with the Charity Commission show that the theatre has returned modest surpluses for the past three years.
Bashford’s badly hidden agenda was betrayed in her final remark. “If the Warehouse Theatre is sadly unable to survive then we will aim to maintain the tradition of the studio theatre in Croydon as part of the remodelling of the Fairfield Halls.”
Coming from the woman who last year oversaw the closure of a 60-seater arthouse cinema, and seriously suggested that its bespoke digital projector could be transplanted and used in a 1,000-seat theatre – guess where? – it is unsurprising that people who care for the borough’s arts provision suspect that Bashford has again deliberately tried to kill a Croydon arts venue to enable her to benefit the Fairfield Halls, with the Warehouse sacked and looted for the developer’s promised millions.
The Warehouse Theatre is on a prime site immediately adjoining East Croydon station. Plans for what was once “Croydon Arena”, then “Croydon Gateway”, now Ruskin Square, have been hotly disputed for a decade. Stanhope’s plans for offices and apartments included a pledge to provide a replacement performance space for the Warehouse Theatre. This was a significant public benefit for the borough, and the developers allowed £3.5 million for the purpose.
Senior figures associated with Stanhope have also been generous supporters of the Warehouse Theatre in recent years, as they wait for market conditions to change to allow them to begin the long-delayed build.
No one at Stanhope was available today to comment whether they would release their promised millions for use at a rival theatre venue that is not on their Ruskin Square site.
The local Conservative party should be deeply embarrassed over this entire episode when reminded of the petty political point-scoring five years ago of Eddy Arram, who until recently had a day job as one of Bashford’s colleagues working in the office of local MP Gavin Barwell.
In 2007 Arram, now mayor of Croydon, presented a petition to the council calling for the restoration of a grant to… the Warehouse Theatre.
The presentation was recorded on video for posterity.
- Inside Croydon: A news source about Croydon that is not based in Redhill. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Warehouse Theatre closes, thanks to comedians on council (insidecroydon.com)
- Robeson sings a lament for the Warehouse Theatre (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon quizzed on hiring of security guards for Bashford (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon Warehouse on brink of closure (guardian.co.uk)