East Herts Council proposes £4m bailout for Hertford Theatre plans
A £4m rescue plan for Hertford Theatre's redevelopment is being proposed by East Herts Council.
The district council's Conservative administration will seek approval for the 20% extra spending on Tuesday (March 1) to cover a total bill of £24.09m for the arts project.
The leadership said "an unprecedented rise in material and other construction costs over the past 12 months" was behind the hike.
The plan being put before all councillors, as they set EHC's budget for 2022-23 and its council tax from April, is to take £3m from earmarked reserves and up to £1m of additional borrowing from the capital projects contingency.
This will ensure the council's transformation of the theatre – including additional seating, new studios and cinema, a plaza for arts and culture, and a new, direct link to the 12th-century motte Castle Gardens and Hertford Castle – can continue.
Cllr Eric Buckmaster, the council's executive member for wellbeing, said: "We're asking councillor colleagues to share our commitment to investing in this project: to revitalise Hertford town centre, to deliver a new hub for our communities and to enrich the lives of residents for generations to come.
"The theatre sits in the heart of Hertford, but its doors will be open for everyone in our district to enjoy. This investment is part of our five-year capital spending programme that also includes Old River Lane, which will deliver a new arts centre, leisure facilities, shops and homes in Bishop's Stortford.
"Capital projects like this are not just undertaken to deliver improved facilities, they generate income for the council that enables us to protect the services we supply and keep charges such as council tax as low as we possibly can.
"After this investment, the new Hertford Theatre will no longer require a subsidy from the council and will generate income for the future."
Last year, the council ditched plans for a £30m arts centre with a 544-seat theatre auditorium in Bishop's Stortford's Causeway, blaming Covid-19's impact on its finances and a change in Government lending rules.
Instead, it put forward a £15.5m cinema-led scheme as part of an overall £45m investment. The five-screen facility is set to deliver a 150-seat cinema with the facility for small acts on a raised stage, an 80-seat cinema/multi-use auditorium, another 80-seat cinema and two 50-seat screens, plus a gallery space, café bar and outside space for open-air theatre, music, screening of live sport and leisure activities like ice skating.
The scaled-down arts centre is part of the wider Old River Lane scheme, in partnership with developer Cityheart, for a cultural quarter including 137 homes, 90 "senior living" apartments, shops, restaurants and offices.
The cornerstone of the project, a multi-storey car park with 564 spaces at Northgate End, is set to open later this year.