Pledge to maintain live events at St Albans’ Maltings Arts Theatre

THE NEW woman at the helm of arts and cultural activities in St Albans says she is keen to see live theatre and live music events stay at The Maltings Arts Theatre.

Cllr Sheila Burton, who has just taken over as portfolio holder for culture and heritage, nailed her colours to the mast this week after an overview and scrutiny committee meeting held to give all interested parties a voice in the way forward for the loss-making arts theatre which is subsidised by the council.

Officers are currently drawing up a business plan to invest �500,000 in revamping the premises and using it as a mini-cinema for a large part of the week.

Cllr Burton said: “We do have to save money here and as much as we are not against the notion of subsidising the arts, we cannot go on spending �150,000 a year out of taxpayers’ money. I think it’s important to get the balance right.”

Addressing fears that film at the arts theatre would compete with the Alpha Cinema expected to open in the old Odeon in London Road, she said they would work together to make sure there was no overlap.

She went on: “For example, we could offer more for children and maybe even put on Saturday morning pictures for them.

“There are also possibilities to merge the spaces there to make one bigger room which would mean we could put in more seating.

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“As a keen user of The Maltings’ theatrical events, I would be keen to try and keep the live element going but I cannot pre-empt the results of future consultations.”

The meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee was called by its new chairman Cllr Julian Daly who felt a report outlining plans to modernise the theatre had not addressed users’ concerns.

He said: “I wanted the Civic Society to have a chance to properly air their concerns and make sure the report to Cabinet in the autumn properly addressed those concerns.”

He went on: “There is really muddled thinking behind the report as it stands. It’s not clear what if any theatrical performance can be delivered.

“It’s not clear that they’ve thought through the commercial impact of a reduced number of tickets for live performance promoters. I also feel there should have been more consultation with people who use the theatre and potential users to ask them what they want.”

“The proposals hide behind a nice sounding claim that it will be a cultural hub.

“The committee were not convinced, noting the emphasis on things like the sale of sweets and popcorn. We asked for clarification on what the council means by the expression, ‘a cultural hub’?”

Speaking after the meeting, Marion Hammant of St Albans Civic Society said she was particularly concerned at the idea that the arts theatre might be given over to cinema use.

She was also unhappy about plans to provide better seating but cut the actual number available from 190 to 110.

She said: “I know from my own experience of putting on an annual concert there that you can just about break even with the current number of seats. If you cut them, promoters will be unable to put on live music or live theatre.

“I also don’t know how this would work in the light of the new cinema currently being provided in London Road at the former Odeon cinema.”

A new report is due to go before the council’s cabinet in the autumn.