Clean-up hope for fire-hit opera house

NE of Scarborough's worst eyesores – the burned out former Royal Opera House in the town centre – could finally be cleaned up after the Grade Two listed building was sold by its off-shore owners.

OYesterday's announcement came as it was also revealed that the upper floor of the building is so dangerous it will have to be demolished.

The frontage of the century-old theatre in St Thomas Street has been a crumbling ruin since two fires broke out inside seven years ago.

But although badly damaged by rising groundwater, the auditorium to the rear escaped fire damage and for years English Heritage has insisted it can be saved.

Fears have been growing about the safety of the structure since the near collapse of the former Marshall Snelgrove store in St Nicholas Street over the summer.

Scarborough Council subsequently announced it was proceeding with a compulsory purchase order – citing a lack of response by the theatre's owners, The St James Investment Trust, based in the British Virgin Islands, to the concerns.

But yesterday it was announced the site had been sold to Scarborough businessman Nikolas Shaw, who is looking at possible alternative uses.

Scarborough Council's chief executive John Trebble said: "This is a positive move for the Royal Opera House and it is hoped that we are seeing the first signs of a brighter future for the building.

"Not only does it bring the building into local ownership it also opens up the prospect of positive action being taken which will remove the current eyesore. The Royal Opera House occupies a prime town centre site and deserves careful consideration about future development proposals."

The council will continue to work behind the scenes with the new owners as they decide on the future of the building, which was inspected by consultant engineers earlier in the week.

They had told the council that the upper parts of the theatre need to be removed to bring the structure down to a safe height: second floor window level.

Mr Trebble was encouraged by the response of the new owners to the need for the emergency work, being dealt with as a priority by their contractors, but it was too early to say whether the compulsory purchase scheme would be dropped.

He added: "We wish to work with the new owners, and it is prudent therefore to reserve judgment about whether a CPO will be necessary.

"In any case, obtaining a CPO is a long, complicated process and in the circumstances the council will be taking a pragmatic approach."

Mr Shaw's agent Ken Ferrie, of Ken Ferrie Building Contractors, is now calling in consultants to decide the way forward for the building.

He added: "Clearly, the family has some ideas of its own, but we will be getting consultants to carry out a feasibility study and then working closely with the council on what to do with the Opera House.

"Nothing has been decided yet and Mr Shaw and his wife have an open mind. Until we have the expert views of our consultants we will not know how best to proceed."