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Fresh concerns over Fairfield Halls revamp budget emerge

Fairfield Halls says goodbye, as it closes for a £30 million redevelopment. Photo: Desmond FitzGerald Fairfield Halls. Photo: Desmond FitzGerald
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A £30 million redevelopment of Fairfield Halls has come under renewed scrutiny after a Theatres Trust report containing strong criticisms of the project was released online.

The Croydon arts centre closed in July for a two-year refurbishment that will see a number of improvements, including a revamp of its 1,800-seat concert hall to allow for more musicals to be staged there.

Council plans to close the complex for two years were previously branded “unfortunate” by the Theatres Trust, which said the closure could affect its audience base and “long-term viability”.

But a peer review of Croydon Council’s plan by the Theatres Trust has now been released, questioning the plans to expand the musical offering and urging the council to find a new operator for the complex as soon as possible.

Originally conducted and presented to the council in June, the review was released by the council after a freedom of information request by the Save Our Fairfield campaign.

In it, a panel of theatre experts assembled by the trust expressed concerns that the £30 million budget would be under “considerable pressure” from the current proposals.

The experts also urged the council to rethink plans to expand the Concert Hall get-in area to attract bigger musicals, claiming the Concert Hall stage would always be “limited”.

It also highlighted that local rival venues including the New Wimbledon Theatre had “full staging capacity” the Concert Hall would not have, and could facilitate more complex production demands.

The review also raised concerns about the lack of an operator for the redeveloped venue – a problem that has not yet been rectified after original operator Fairfield went into administration in July.

The review panel said there should be an operational brief to guide the scheme design, adding: “Identifying an operator as soon as possible is critical”.

It was also stressed that plans to relaunch the building in 2018 should be acted on as soon as possible with a new operator, to make up for the arts centre being closed for two years.

The review states: “Do not underestimate or underspend on a relaunch. It will take time to establish a reputation and build relationships and win over hearts and minds.”

It goes on: “Critical to this is having the operator and management in place to carry out the necessary planning and build critical relationships.”

Andy Hylton, who spearheaded the Save Our Fairfield campaign, claimed the review proved the council had “rushed through these designs without actually planning the process properly”.

He said: “This report raises concerns about the lack of foresight, which mirrors the warnings we’ve raised as part of the campaign.”

Croydon Council described the report as “really useful” and said the £30 million budget for the project was “a very significant one, and the largest ever put forward for the Fairfield restoration”.

It said it had been working with potential new operators, and “once in place they will have well over a year to plan for a relaunch”.

Councillor Timothy Godfrey, cabinet member for culture, leisure, and sport, said: “This is the biggest investment in the refurbishment of a theatre and music complex in the country by a local council. I’m really pleased to have been able to work with industry experts to get such a positive and helpful peer review completed. The amendments to the refurbishment that have come from the Theatres Trust review will make Fairfield a far better venue.”

 

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