Council set to back deal for Royal Hall

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A DEAL for Harrogate Theatre to take on running the town’s iconic Royal Hall is due to be approved by senior councillors as £200,000 of taxpayers’ money will be ploughed into the new arrangements.

Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday next week when members are expected to give their support for the long-awaited agreement.

Concerns have been growing over the future of the Royal Hall because of a lack of events, after it emerged taxpayers have been footing a daily bill of £1,000 to operate the historic venue.

Harrogate Theatre has now hammered out the deal with Harrogate Borough Council, which announced in June last year that it was considering leasing the Royal Hall to an external operator.

However, a close check will be kept on the new set-up after the local authority will make a contribution to the partnership on behalf of taxpayers of almost £200,000.

The overall figure includes a one-off grant payment of £105,000 from the council to the theatre during the next financial year. A formal review will be conducted after both six and 12 months to ensure that no major problems have emerged under the new arrangements.

Council leader Don Mackenzie said: “What we are hoping to achieve over the next 12 months and beyond is aimed at securing the future of one of the country’s finest buildings.

“The new arrangements will hopefully provide a much more varied arts programme not just for Harrogate, but the whole district.”

The board and trustees of Harrogate Theatre last week gave unanimous backing to its bid to take over the running of the town’s Royal Hall.

If the council’s cabinet backs the plans, the proposed deal will need to clear a final hurdle when it is debated at a full council meeting next month.

Coun Mackenzie has maintained that he believes the theatre could make a “substantial profit” out of running the Royal Hall, which is currently managed by the council as part of the Harrogate International Centre (HIC) portfolio.

The bid to breath new life into the spa town’s venues has been heralded as the biggest shift in the Harrogate district’s arts world in the last 50 years.

A new programme of events includes a series of high-profile shows at the Royal Hall. A major coup has been announced with the staging in August of Classic Fest, created by the organisers of Buxton’s popular International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival. The Buxton event, now in its 19th year, brings in £1m a week to the local economy.

The Royal Hall was re-opened by Prince Charles in 2008 after a £10.7m revamp. But the venue staged just 57 events during 2010-11 - only eight of which were commercial.