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Edinburgh council proposes sell-off of dark Leith venue to boost King’s

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Edinburgh city council’s culture and leisure department has proposed selling a disused 1,200-seater Leith venue to raise funds for the struggling King’s Theatre, as part of a major review of the city’s theatrical activity.

The proposal is at the centre of a five-year plan for theatre in the city, which was due to go before the council executive as The Stage went to press. The report suggests that receipts from the sale of the Leith Theatre, which has been dark since the late eighties, should be invested in the city’s theatre infrastructure and the King’s in particular. It also recommends that £325,000 be given to the Festival City Theatres Trust, which runs both the King’s and Festival theatres, and that the council establishes a long-term investment plan to secure the organisation’s future. The council is the owner of all three theatres.

John Stalker, general manager of the trust, was hopeful that the proposal would be accepted by the executive. He said: “It’s a positive and bold strategy. It’s a very good opportunity for the city. I very much hope that the executive will approve the strategy.”

The report states that a requirement of this financial support for the trust is that the King’s Theatre reverts to a system whereby it is open to the public for only 24 weeks of the year. It has been reported that this could lead to up to 14 redundancies at the theatre but Stalker denied that any decisions had yet been made over this. He confirmed that the trust was in negotiations with union representatives from Bectu over how the 24-week plan will affect staff working patterns.

He continued: “Discussions are at the earliest of stages and consultations with the union will continue. No specific proposals regarding redundancies have been put forward by the trust. The programme at the King’s, as published, will continue until April 2005. Thereafter there will be a full programme of work, starting with the Edinburgh International Festival and running throughout the autumn, winter and spring of 2005/06.”

The council has denied that it is considering the sale of the King’s to a private company in a bid to save it from closure. Responding to reports that the Tollcross venue could be sold to a company such as the Ambassador Theatre Group, Herbert Coutts, director of the council’s culture and leisure department, said: “The idea of an independent operator is not a new one. Some years ago when the management of the King’s was transferred to the Festival City Theatres Trust, the council looked at a range of options including a commercial operator. However it was felt then, and still is, that it was better to have a joint-operation, as we have with the FCTT.”

The Edinburgh Theatre Strategy report, which was instigated by the council and produced with the help of arts organisations across the city, has made a variety of key recommendations which aim to reinforce Edinburgh’s reputation as a city of culture. These include the development of an on-line ticketing scheme linking all of the main theatres, festivals and concert halls, encouragement for presenting houses and producing companies to collaborate with other venues and companies, and proposals for improving youth theatre in the city.

Coutts said: “The theatre sector makes a contribution to the city’s economy of around £50 million per year. However it is important not to sit on our laurels, but to continue to develop the theatre sector of the city as there are many other UK cities who are competing with us and seeking to claim the cultural crown that Edinburgh holds.”

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