Culture secretary Matt Hancock has questioned plans to replace Derby’s Assembly Rooms with a new venue costing £44 million, claiming the existing site could be refurbished for a quarter of the price.
The Labour-controlled city council wants to spend £44 million to knock down the existing building in the Market Place and replace it with a 3,000-capacity music and performance venue.
But on a visit to the city Hancock backed plans by the Conservatives to carry out a £10 million refurbishment instead.
The 40-year-old Assembly Rooms have been closed since fire caused “extensive damage” to the plant room on the roof of the venue’s car park in March 2014. The plant room supplied the venue with electricity and lighting.
Hancock said: “Inside, it’s like people put their glasses down yesterday after the last performance. It’s in good nick. I go around the country looking at performance spaces and here we’ve got a good one that could open pretty quickly with a refurb.”
He added: “The question you’ve got to ask is, for four times the money are you going to get a four times better facility. I think it would be very hard to see that.”
He claimed the council’s plans would cost “an awful lot of taxpayers’ money” which it would have to borrow.
However, Derby City Council deputy leader Martin Rawson said: “A new music and performance venue is the option that residents, businesses and partners have told us they want to see; it is sustainable for the council’s finances and it has the potential to transform the cultural landscape of Derby.”