Cheltenham Borough Council
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Agenda item

Town Hall Redevelopment - update

Mark Sheldon, Director of Corporate Projects and Councillor Flo Clucas, Cabinet Member Healthy Lifestyles

(Comment on the options as necessary, particularly option 3 which is being recommended by the project team)


The Director of Corporate Projects introduced the update, as circulated with the agenda and explained that the paper summarised a significant amount of work undertaken by the consultants and project team, to analyse options for the Town Hall.  The Town Hall faced a number of issues, amongst them, poor access, ageing technical equipment, lack of capacity (under 1000 which reduced the ability to attract quality performers), a redundant and broken organ which took up capacity, a single bar which resulted in overcrowding, and only 4% of current audiences were aged 18-25.


A number of concepts were tested through public consultation, of which the community arts centre was the most well received and which helped shape the 5 redevelopment options which ranged from £8.8m to £29m, with the potential to generate additional revenue of between circa £88k p.a. to circa £290k p.a.  Given the level of capital investment required and the level of funding gaps identified, none of the options were viable and as such a further phased option was considered, to move the redevelopment forward, at a reduced cost overall of £25m compared to the original 5 options.  Given the conclusions of the work to date, the options available to the council and TCT included:


1.    Do nothing

2.    Progress phased development of the Town hall

3.    Invest a sum of circa £1m to pump prime the commercial opportunities identified by TCT and request that the council set aside the balance of £0.5m towards funding capital investment in CBC cultural assets following the completion of the development of the Cultural Strategy

4.    Build a lightweight café / bar and new entrance structure on the back of the Town Hall

5.    (The CBC lead Cabinet Member requested that the following additional option be explored).  Set up a free school based on performing arts provision. 


The project team concluded that the remaining budget of £1.5m should be used to address some immediate practical barriers to programming and attracting performers.  The team were now working with TCT to understand short and medium term requirements, which would support the viability of all Trust buildings and it would be for Cabinet to decide how to use the budget. 


The Cabinet Member for Healthy lifestyles acknowledged that there were issues at the Town Hall, not least the fact that it was a listed building which, to an extent limited the options for refurbishment.  Also, the challenge of attracting performers that in turn attracted a certain audience (and capacity), and this would become increasingly challenging as time went on.  Another issue was that the bar could not operate properly and investment here would allow for significant increases in income and ultimately, without investment, TCT would not be able to increase revenue and would therefore be making annual requests to the council for ongoing support.  The Cabinet Member noted the toilets, but explained that the Chief Executive of TCT was confident that there were commercial temporary toilets available which would solve the issue without the need for major investment at this juncture.  She thanked the project team for their hard work, which had been hugely informative and it was now time for decisions to be taken that would enable the Town Hall to carry on as a going-concern. 


The Director of Corporate Projects and Cabinet Member Healthy Lifestyles, gave the following responses to member questions:


·         The funding would allow the bar to meet its full potential and generate additional income, but consideration would also be given to solutions in other areas/rooms, which could include ‘bottle only’ service, in order to maximise income.

·         The project team had visited the Battersea Arts Centre which had undergone refurbishment and was now used by a range of people throughout the day.  This building was very similar to the Town Hall and the project team felt that with some investment, something similar could be replicated at the Town Hall.

·         It was accepted that at present the heritage aspects of the building and town were not being taken advantage of and solutions were being discussed.

·         The Asset Management Working Group (AMWG) had raised the suggestion that the building could be sold, but this was a sensitive building in a sensitive location, which made this option a very challenging one.  The purpose of the project had been to repurpose for the future, allowing TCT to generate increased income in the short to medium term and then consider longer term options.

·         The project team had consulted widely on future use, as well as getting views on the organ, and there was overwhelming support for a multifunctional and multi programmable space.  The cost of restoration of the organ could be in the region of £500k, but there were questions about the future appetite for organ music.  

·         To relocate the organ, which was undoubtedly a sensitive issue, would allow for increased capacity and therefore help with the ongoing viability of the Town Hall.  The cost of relocation would be in the region of £435k, though this would incorporate stage work, however, it was noted that this was not considered to be a priority at this stage.  

·         The consequence of any proposed sale of the Town hall would be considered further once this had been explored further.

·         Programming was an issue and TCT were looking at altering this in order to attract a younger audience.

·         Acoustics were an issue, but were not considered to be an immediate priority, as there were more pressing issues to be resolved.  The introduction of retractable tiered seating was considered more important. 


A member, who was also a member of the AMWG, acknowledged that the council owned some very beautiful buildings, but stressed the expense of maintaining them and the council’s inability to meet the cost of modernising the building as required.    Whilst he commended the commitment the council were demonstrating to breathe life back into this building, he questioned whether the level of investment being made would result in any reduction of ongoing costs to the council and therefore advocated looking at the option for sale. 


A number of members voiced their support for the continued preservation of the Town Hall but also acknowledged that, given limited resources, the ongoing viability of this building posed a major challenge to the council and TCT. 


The Chair concluded that the project team’s recommended option 3 was the most sensible and thanked the Director of Corporate Projects and the Cabinet Member Healthy Lifestyles for their attendance.


Supporting documents: