Fairfield Halls will not re-open until 2019, Tony Newman, the leader of the council, announced in a somewhat off-hand matter last night.
The prestigious arts complex was supposed to be ready for a grand re-opening in July 2018. But now, there’s even doubts about which parts of the Fairfield Halls – the concert hall, Ashcroft Theatre and the Arnhem Gallery – will be ready next year.
The delays could badly jeopardise Newman’s pet project, of accessing around £1million arts funding by having Croydon declared London’s Borough of Culture for 2019.
Speaking at one of the last council cabinet meetings before the local elections on May 3, Newman – perhaps inadvertently – let the cat out of the bag that his Labour administration’s £30million flagship project is now running more than six months over schedule.
The Fairfield Halls, the biggest arts venue in the capital south of the river apart from the South Bank, “went dark” in July 2016. The promised two-year refurbishment programme is intended to add an extra half-century of life to the 50-year-old venue.
Blairite Newman’s flippant comment last night confirmed that the Fairfield Halls’ new operators, BH Live, will not be able to put in place an artistic programme for at least another 12 months.
In 2016, contractors appeared slow to start on their demanding project, with few signs of workers even being on site on a daily basis until midway through last year.
Since just before Christmas, when they put a massive hole in the side of the building where the Arnhem Gallery used to be, there’s been few signs of rapid progress elsewhere around the site.
And it all leaves a gaping hole in Newman’s “Delivering for Croydon” claims, ahead of the local elections in May.
Newman’s arrogance surfaced once again in the council chamber, as he batted off questions about the project’s progress, or lack of it, and attempted to chide the opposition Tories for their belated concern for arts in the borough. Now, Newman said the Conservatives’ only concern about the Fairfield Halls seemed to be “which particular day in 2019 it will open”.
Truth is, it is a concern shared by the council’s appointed operators, BH Live, as they are unable to make any bookings of acts or shows without clarity over an opening date or, indeed, what parts of the building will be ready to open.
As chair of the cabinet meeting, Newman did not allow the opposition to follow-up on the implications of his admission that the Fairfield scheme is running so badly late. Nor did Newman give any indication of the efforts he and his council might be taking to encourage speedier progress from the contractors, or the penalty clauses in their contract for late delivery.
It means that there will be no 2018 Christmas season of shows and pantomimes at the Fairfield Halls. November and December is usually the most lucrative period of the year for theatre operators. This will be the third Christmas period that the Halls will have been closed.
“A hand over from the contractor to BH Live is still scheduled for November,” a Katharine Street source said today.
“How much of the building is ready to be handed over is the question, and the honest answer is, we still don’t know.”
Newman was keen to stress the positives about the £30million scheme last night. These would appear to be (a) that the contractors are not Carillion; and (b) the Fairfield Halls might still be open before anyone even starts demolition work for Westfield.
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