Fairfield Halls Closure in July - for ever??
29/04/2016 17:55:00......Posted by Simon Brew
Together with several other Conservative councillors, I attended a packed public meeting of about 300 people at the Fairfield Halls on 6th April. It had been convened by the SaveOurFairfield Campaign (@saveourfairfld), and a series of experts in their fields gave convincing presentations on the current situation. The Labour Council leader Tony Newman and cabinet member Tim Godfrey had both been invited but neither turned up, and there was a poignantly empty chair on the stage where Cllr Godfrey should have sat.
Everyone agrees that the halls badly need refurbishment, so the issue is whether it’s better to keep the venue open and upgrade the facilities bit by bit (concert hall, then foyer, then theatre for example) or to close the entire site for two years (or more) while it is upgraded. Labour plans to close the venue on 15th July 2016 and hopes to reopen in September 2018, but at the meeting, we heard a long list of good reasons why a staged upgrade would be far preferable. The most important of these include:
· Many staff and apprentices and the loyal corps of volunteer stewards, some of whom have served for over 20 years, will be able to keep their jobs by switching roles within the site as the upgrade continues.
· Keeping the venue open maintains Fairfield in the public eye as a premier venue for Croydonians and visitors at a time when upheaval in the town is imminent due to the forthcoming Westfield Hammerson development.
· Access to professional performing arts facilities is maintained for the dozens of local groups and schools that currently use its facilities.
· The venue will maintain its position on the professional comedy, musical and theatrical touring circuits, thus avoiding the expense of having to re-establish itself after a 2year closure.
· Events are typically booked up to 18 months in advance, so new staff and a marketing team will need to be recruited no later than Christmas 2016 if the planned reopening date is to be maintained.
· As yet, there is no detail on timescale or an operational or business plan, or even a designated site operator.
· The expertise of the current venue operator and loyal staff, who between them have decades of experience in operating the site, will be maintained.
· At the time of writing, planning permission for the building works has not yet been granted, so it seems extremely premature to close the whole site so soon.
· Phased refurbishments are common in the industry, and have been completed successfully for example at Bristol, Newcastle and Eastbourne, so why not in Croydon?
Labour seems determined to close the venue completely for two years or more because they claim that it would cost an extra £5M and take longer to complete. I don’t deny that it might take longer and might cost a bit more to undertake a phased upgrade, but the important thing is that the venue would remain open, many jobs would be saved, and the continuity of bookings would generally be maintained. In any case, the total cost of closure and re-opening does not seem to have been fully or publicly costed, so all financial figures are open to variable interpretation, depending on the point you wish to make.
At the full Council meeting on 18th April, the Campaign presented two petitions containing a total of 11000 signatures which called for the upgrade works to be phased; there was a lively debate with four excellent speeches from Andy Hylton and my colleagues (and three more from Labour). At the end of the debate, Labour councillors voted to disregard the petition, even as boos echoed round the chamber. It remains to be seen whether the administration will take any notice of the strong expression of public feeling on this issue.
Cllr Simon Brew, April 2016