The Fairfield Halls will close this summer to undergo a £30 million redevelopment, after the venue’s managment board finally agreed to the investment scheme proposed by the Halls’ owners, Croydon Council.The council’s plans – based on a secret consultants’ report which has not been seen by the public, despite a promise from council leader Tony Newman to release it – will see the half-century-old concert hall, Ashcroft Theatre and Arnhem Gallery closed for two years.
There was opposition to the closure proposals from Kate Vennell, the chair of the Fairfield Halls board, from its £90,000 per year chief executive, Simon Thomsett, and from Croydon’s Tory opposition, who identified a cause with which to try to score some political capital.
They wanted the council to spend millions more of public money on a phased redevelopment which kept the venue open for performances. They also expressed fears that the two-year closure might, in some way, become permanent. More than 7,000 people signed a petition, which effectively wanted Council Tax-payers to cough up at least an extra £4.8 million towards a phased redevelopment.
But following an announcement this afternoon, Fairfield Halls will go “dark” in six months’ time. Plans are already being made to stage a Last Night of the Proms concert in the main hall on the eve of the closure.
The announcement of the closure had to be delayed while officials spent time downloading the hundreds of documents outlining planning applications on to the council’s computer system. A public notice appeared in this Wednesday’s Croydon Guardian, though even that was at least 10 days later than senior council figures had hoped the paperwork would be ready.In a statement issued by the council’s press office this afternoon, they said, “Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd and the council have agreed to work together on a managed programme that would see the venue close on 15 July 2016 in preparation for a £30m transformation.
“The two-year closure will allow for a comprehensive redevelopment of the ageing building into a spectacular arts and cultural centre, and part of a new vibrant cultural and educational quarter at College Green.
“Councillor Tony Newman, leader of the council, said: ‘We’re delighted to have reached a position that is in the best interest of both parties. We’ve been working alongside the board to help secure funding to support the process for a managed closure. We’re both in full agreement that everyone working at Fairfield is treated fairly and properly.“’Closing the venue is the best possible option; it will enable us to take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to totally transform Fairfield Halls into one of the most prestigious arts and entertainment venues in the country.
“’Fairfield served the 20th century proudly and we will ensure that it will do the same in the 21st century, and for generations to come’.”
Significantly, with a July 15 closure date, it seems unlikely that the Fairfield Halls will be open for business again before the next time Newman and his 39 Labour councillors have to seek re-election, in May 2018.
Today, though, the council was able to quote Vennell, admitting her preferences for a phased redevelopment, but now bowing to the inevitable. The closure will mean around 100 staff redundancies, for which the council is providing a £500,000 fund. Among those leaving the staff would appear to be Thomsett.
“The charity has always welcomed the significant investment in the Fairfield from the council,” Vennell said. “The council has been clear that it wants a rapid project and although we preferred phasing to allow continuing programme and community access, we appreciate its support for a managed closure.
“The council has reassured us it will start work immediately, deliver a high-quality project and engage the Fairfield charity in the future operations.“I want to take this opportunity to recognise the achievements of Simon Thomsett, CEO of Fairfield, and our talented team, which was reflected in record attendances through Christmas 2015. We can feel proud that we’re going out on a high.
“Over the next two years we will expand our work supporting young people to take part in cultural activities and providing compelling productions for them such as the Terriers drama. We will be announcing more on this future Fairfield programme over the next few months.”
Presumably, that means that Vennell’s Fairfield team will start work on providing refunds to all those Daniel O’Donnell fans who bought tickets for performances which were scheduled for long after the council’s proposed closure date.
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