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Plans for cultural hub may lead to Greenwich Theatre sale

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Greenwich Theatre could be forced to relocate under plans announced by the Royal Borough of Greenwich council to create a new performing arts hub in the London borough.

The local authority is proposing a multi-million pound refurbishment of its Borough Hall venue – which currently contains a performance space for Greenwich Dance and offices for Greenwich and Docklands Festivals – to create the new hub.

Greenwich council will submit a £5 million bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the new year to help fund the renovation project.

As part of the plans, the council is considering shutting Greenwich Theatre, which it owns. The organisation that runs the site, Greenwich Theatre Limited, would be offered a new home at the Borough Hall.

Greenwich Theatre’s artistic and executive director James Haddrell said that while the proposed £15 million venue would offer the same size of main performance space that Greenwich Theatre has – a 400-person capacity – sharing the theatre with Greenwich Dance would limit its work.

“Greenwich Theatre occupies a really interesting position in London. As a largely non-producing mid-scale theatre, a lot of what we do is about taking small or fringe companies and helping them make that step up to the mid-scale. To have to share weeks in the main house, that would limit our work,” said Haddrell.

He added: “There is discussion about our pantomime continuing, so we would be offered those weeks, but the more interesting, artistic work might be compromised.”

Haddrell said he was “astonished” that the council planned to commit £5 million to culture in the area, but was cautious as to whether the facility being offered at the new hub would be like-for-like when compared with the Greenwich Theatre.

The executive director said the council had left it to Greenwich Theatre Limited to potentially find a buyer for the venue before putting it up for sale, but a decision was yet to be made. He said he understood that the redevelopment plans for the Borough Hall would not be completed until 2018.

Peter Kotz, cabinet member for culture, said: “The developments mark a major commitment by the council to enhance further the cultural offer through the improvement to the fabric of the facilities at a time when many other boroughs are cutting support for the arts.

“Our local arts organisations are tremendously well-respected in the borough, and throughout the performing arts community. We are determined to work with our partners to create the facilities that they, and the borough as a whole, deserve.”

A council spokesperson denied that it would force Greenwich Theatre to relocate. The spokesperson said: “The council’s position is perfectly clear. It is to grow the performing arts in the borough and to seek a refurbishment of the Borough Hall.

“At the same time, Greenwich Theatre has informed us that it is in discussions to enhance the theatre building and the council has stated it will support the theatre in these discussions. We have also stated that we are prepared to consider incorporating the theatre into the refurbished Borough Hall if that is their wish.”

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