Agenda item

Call-in of decision E3275: - Mission Theatre Community Asset Transfer


Councillor Blackburn – Lead Call in Member


Councillor Blackburn stated that, while he and his family supported the arts, theatre and drama, members are elected to serve all of their residents. He asked that the Panel scrutinize and consider if this decision is best for all our residents and asked that it be judged objectively rather than emotionally. He stated that scrutiny is about assessing risks and benefits. He stated that the building is an asset to the Council and outlined what he felt the risks are:


1.  Next Stage Theatre (NST) is a private company and directors aims and objectives can change and the company can be taken in another direction.

2.  There is a 5 year plan to gain a 99 year lease. This does not contain a succession plan. NST have been in the building for 16 years and have continued to secure funding despite a diminishing lease.

3.  The length of the proposal (99 years) will affect three generations. A picture of Western Riverside taken in 1986 shows the many changes in the area in the last 35 years and shows how things can change. The Council may want to utilize this building/asset in the future and suggested a 20 year lease. He confirmed that he supported Next Stage Theatre.


Panel members asked the following questions and raised the following points:


In response to a question from Councillor Elliott, Councillor Blackburn stated that he was aware of the difference between a company with shares and a company with directors, but stated that things could change.


In response to a question from Councillor Dr Kumar, Councillor Blackburn explained that a 20-year lease is a suggestion and that the Cabinet Member could come up with a similar alternative.


In response to the question from Councillor Hughes, Councillor Blackburn explained that the Council have a legal duty to secure benefits against the asset. A 5-year business plan does not stack up to legal scrutiny.


Councillor Hughes asked how the Council monitors social and economic benefits after 5 years. Councillor Blackburn stated that these issues are not considered after the event. He added that there should be a mechanism to monitor assets and lowering the lease time brings people back around the table.


Councillor MacFie stated that it would be unlikely that the building could be used for office space as it is one large room and the building is listed. Councillor Blackburn responded that office needs and designs do change over time.


Councillor Samuel – Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Resources


Councillor Samuel confirmed that members present had received the officer response to the call-in document (a copy of this document is attached to these minutes). He highlighted some of the points made in this document and reminded Panel members that they are only required to consider the points that are raised in the call-in notice and must disregard matters that fall outside that.


·  The Leader and Cabinet model enables decisions to be made in a timely manner, it is unworkable to have pre-scrutiny on every decision.

·  The Community Asset Transfer (CAT) policy was agreed by full Council and refreshed last year. This is a clear policy that has been followed scrupulously.

·  The issue is whether the Council should secure use of the Mission Theatre for Next Stage Theatre. The building must be fit for purpose.

·  The CAT is a means of ensuring better community outcomes.


Panel members asked the following questions and raised the following points:


Councillor Hughes stated that listed buildings are expensive to maintain and he did not want a repeat of the Grosvenor Place issue. Councillor Samuel stated that there are no similarities. He explained that the Council’s estate has been assembled over many years and not all buildings are fully up to date as sufficient funding has not been provided. The Property officer Richard Long explained that the recipient of the CAT has to comply with the lease terms.


Councillor Elliott asked what is the worst-case scenario. The Cabinet Member stated that doing nothing is the biggest risk – NST will not have a guaranteed building, the building will need repair and we would lose a community asset.


Councillor Hodge asked if the CAT process is reversible if the outcomes are not delivered. The Cabinet Member explained that there are safeguards in place to address this.


·  In his closing statement, Councillor Samuel asked the Panel to keep to the terms of the call-in and do the right thing. He stated that he would respect their decision.


·  In his closing statement, Councillor Blackburn stated that the Council does not have a good track record in taking back buildings. He added that the NST are fantastic, but the Council does not need to tie itself up for this long. He asked the Panel to be mindful in making the right decision.


Panel debate


Councillor Elliot stated that the call-in issues are mainly around the Council’s ability to manage the process and that the NST should not be punished for that. There should be some improvements in monitoring.


Councillor Furse stated that the call-in was about costs and does not talk about community value and the NST provides a huge community asset.


Councillor Hodge agreed and stated that community value cannot be measured.


Councillor Hughes stated that the NST is a great organisation but there are concerns about whether lessons have been learned from Grosvenor Place. He also stated some concerns about the potential change in ownership and direction in the future.


Councillor Pritchard stated that he was completely satisfied with the legal process and that the 99-year lease gives clarity to the NST and protects the building.


Councillor MacFie stated that he hoped the NST would reach out to North East Somerset.


Councillor Davis stated that the call-in concerns are on process and that this should not be taken out on the NST.


Councillor Dr Kumar stated that he supported the CAT and that art and culture are good for the community. He would like to see more collaboration with oriental countries.  


Following a motion from Councillor Elliott and seconded by Councillor Furse:


It was RESOLVED to dismiss the call in

(8 for/0 against/1 abstention)




Supporting documents: