Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the manager hired to run the Fairfield Halls won’t tolerate questions about the venue from the borough’s elected representatives
Neil Chandler, the former cruise ship entertainments officer who has been placed in charge of the Fairfield Halls, doesn’t like people rocking the boat – especially when they are elected councillors asking awkward questions about when the arts centre, which was due to re-open in July 2018, will be back in business again.
Chandler was speaking at last week’s scrutiny committee meeting at the Town Hall, where his fraying patience over the many delays in the Fairfield’s £30million, two-year refurbishment programme quickly surfaced.
Chandler has been badly let down by the builders and has had to delay and cancel any performance plans – including a royal gala concert – as the re-opening has been pushed back to September 2019. The building works are overseen by the council’s “award-winning” house-building company, Brick by Brick.
But Chandler appears to be singing from the same song sheet as council leader Tony Newman and council chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini. For them, any form of question about their performance, or that of their colleagues or staff, is regarded as an affront to their human rights.
Just like Newman (who once really boasted that when re-opened, the Fairfield Halls would rival the South Bank) and Negrini, Chandler wants to be answerable to no one.
“It’s very discouraging and concerning for us if people who are part of the council make comment on social media,” Chandler bleated.
Questions which Chandler and his management company, the Bournemouth-based conference organisers BHLive, consider to be “unhelpful” include:
“When is the building going to open?”, and,
“Will it ever open?”
Chandler said that such questioning about a public venue, which is being funded out of public funds, are particularly discouraging, “especially if the comments appear on the same social media threads that we use”. Awww. Poor lamb.
Presumably, that means he gets a little bit upset if Inside Croydon reports are ever tagged on Twitter @BHLIVE_UK, @FairfieldHalls, or even @CroydonBID, the business development group which has made Chandler its chair.
Chandler said that such reasonable and proper questions of genuine public interest undermine his sales drive. Even though, as yet, Fairfield Halls under BHLive has had nothing to sell.
“Especially when we are trying to sell tickets, so our potential customers see comments from councillors asking such questions that does not give any confidence to anyone who wants to buy tickets when we open.
“As the operator I implore you to support the opening of Fairfield Halls and to move away from dates and lets talk about the fantastic opportunity for Croydon.”
Which is an interesting take on the notion of public accountability and the role of elected councillors.
“It is incumbent on all of us to fly the flag for what will be the largest arts centre in South London.”
So that’s them lot told.
Oddly, Chandler was not questioned about his questionable attitude to questions by the scrutiny committee chair, Sean Fitzsimons, who has recently had his council special allowance increased by Tony Newman to nearly £42,000 per year.
Chandler’s performance will further reinforce the suspicion that rather than boring old Arnhem, under Negrini and Newman, Croydon is to be twinned with Pyongyang, where North Korea’s Great Leader is never questioned. Chandler was unavailable today, however, to answer questions about whether he wants to issue a formal edict to change the name of the Fairfield Halls to the People’s Palace of Culture.
Such has been the secrecy over the progress, or lack of it, in the refurbishment works that only now is it beginning to emerge that the part of the delay was due to the discovery in the Ashcroft Theatre that a building constructed in the late 1950s had a lot of asbestos used in its construction.
Who would have guessed that?
“There were complexities that were different from what initial surveys had indicated, that is why the time frame has been a bit longer than we thought,” was the gibberish offered by Ollie “Caddy” Lewis, the cabinet member for butt plugs and stuff.
Neither Lewis nor Chandler addressed the issue of how plans had been dropped to reconfigure the back-of-house access to allow the kind of stage equipment used by big touring music acts to perform on stage in the Concert Hall in future.
“It’s just one of the things that over the course of the past three years has been quietly dropped, mainly because of cost,” a Katharine Street source said.
“There’s a strong chance that there will be a massive sense of anti-climax when the Fairfield does re-open, because in the Concert Hall, hardly anything has been changed at all. That’s great news for those concerned about the Hall’s excellent acoustic qualities, but it is inevitable that people will start asking ‘what’s the money been spent on?'”
On behalf of the people of Croydon, Inside Croydon would like to ask Chandler just that question, but we wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings…
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