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Bishop's Stortford Arts Forum's message to every East Herts Council member over Old River Lane scheme: 'Wait more before you press on with Waytemore Arts'

Dear Councillor,

An extraordinary meeting of East Herts Council has been called on Thursday (Mar 18) to discuss and vote on a proposal to change the nature of the Old River Lane scheme.

This new proposal has been developed in the last few weeks without consultation and is being presented at a council meeting where the public are looking for answers to many questions. The original ORL scheme was developed over a long period of fact-finding, analysis and consultation.

Artist's impression of how the new arts centre could look (45190911)
Artist's impression of how the new arts centre could look (45190911)

The new proposal for a cinema and foyer provides film screens, duplicating provision at the Empire and South Mill Arts centre. The proposed flexibility of its screen spaces provide smaller auditoriums than already exist elsewhere in the town. The outside space is likely to be suitable for few arts performers. And the financial viability of the cinema industry is being questioned.

We ask you NOT to vote for the proposal, in order to pause, allow time to take stock, consult and think again.

The Bishop’s Stortford Arts Forum represents several arts organisations in the town who supported the original ORL scheme but see no value in the new proposal. The business community and other voices in the town also have serious objections to the new proposal. It is time to think again.

Why? The original ORL scheme contained a large auditorium which would be suitable for performances that could not be staged in existing locations in the town. Its size meant it could attract touring, new theatre productions before their West End run, touring ballet and opera and A-list comedians who can’t be booked into the SMA due to either its limited seating capacity or lack of facilities. This original ORL scheme would also be large enough for home-grown orchestral and choral music which cannot fit into SMA.

The new proposal duplicates cultural provision in the town. There is already a five-screen cinema and SMA which provide latest releases and live theatre and opera screenings. SMA’s 300-seat auditorium also houses small-scale events.

The new venue’s flexible spaces will be smaller than SMA’s auditorium and therefore cannot provide for different forms of performance. The new proposal could also make SMA less financially sustainable than it was before the pandemic.

The change of scheme, we are told, has been caused by changes to Treasury rules about the council’s funding of the original scheme. Have all the funding options been fully considered? Why not give time to developing a solution that identifies and meets the real arts and culture needs of the town within the reduced budget?

The town is growing rapidly and, post-Covid, people will look more locally for recreation. There is an opportunity to build something that will have a positive impact on the town for decades.

Equally, there is an opportunity to get it wrong, and by voting for this weak proposal it will fail to meet the needs of the town or strengthen the reputation of East Herts Council.

Please vote against the proposal, press pause to allow proper time to engage with the community, explore alternatives and give your council and our community the time to get this right – for 2021 and the next 30 years.

from Bishop's Stortford Arts Forum

* comprises Bishop’s Stortford Band, Bishop’s Stortford Choral Society, Bishop’s Stortford Sinfonia, Contexture Theatre, Laughing Bishops Comedy Club, Stortford Music Festival and Uncle Funk's Disco Inferno

READ ALSO East Herts Council cuts almost £15m from cost of proposed new cinema-led arts centre in Stortford

READ ALSO Cross-party group questions true cost of Bishop's Stortford town centre plans

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