Leeds: £785,000 to develop West Yorkshire Playhouse revamp bid

A multi-million pound plan to refurbish and overhaul Leeds's flagship theatre has already cost £785,000 in design, planning and consultant fees, papers seen by the Yorkshire Evening Post reveal.

And the costs to develop a fully fledged plan for the £14m West Yorkshire Playhouse “reconfiguration and refurbishment” project could rise even further before a single brick is laid.

As previously reported, the Playhouse - which is owned by Leeds City Council but independently run - has won the first stage of its application for a £6.6 million grant for the major redevelopment project, including the opening of a third theatre inside the 25-year-old complex.

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Arts bosses and civic leaders want to turn the venue into one to rival global cultural hotspots, ahead of a bid for Leeds to be named European Capital of Culture in 2023.

The council has already pledged to contribute £4.9m towards the overall project costs, and a fundraising campaign will be launched to fill any shortfall.

However a vital second stage application to the arts council - with fuller details and a watertight case - must be developed before the main £6.6m grant is properly signed off.

The part two bid is now in advanced planning stages and the latest report to decision-makers from council officers confirms that £374,000 of ‘Agreed Development Plan’ capital funding has been released.

However it acknowledges that ”the estimated [total] cost of £785,134 to develop the scheme proposals” may not be enough to fund “all the costs associated in developing the Stage 2 scheme design proposals”.

The money earmarked for the planning stages so far is made up of a £300,000 ‘development grant’ from Arts Council England, £333,000 from Leeds City Council, and the rest paid directly by the Playhouse.

The report adds the full design and planning costs will “only become apparent” when tenders from a senior project manager and consultant are received.

However it also suggests that consultant costs can be reduced, noting that “it may be necessary to either review the consultant’s scope of service to comply with the budget available or identify savings in the capital scheme”.

The report acknowledges that “there is a risk that the council’s Stage 2 application to ACE will be unsuccessful” and this would mean that “the design costs incurred by the council and the Playhouse would be abortive”.

The YEP understands that the costs are within previously agreed total budgets, and that the bill for feasibility work alone stands at £40,000.

The £785,000 figure is the expected total spend over the next 9 to 12 months on design team fees, surveys and other planning activities to progress the project to the point where the final stage ACE application can be made.

If the stage two funding bid is successful, construction work will begin on site in the second half of 2017, with completion in late 2018.

The construction work is also likely to involve a period of closure for the theatre building, and plans are being drawn up for shows to be staged off-site during that phase.

The planned refurbishment includes a new entrance facing Leeds city centre, improving access to all the theatre spaces, the upgrading of technical equipment and the addition of the new studio theatre space.