Preston City Council has seized control of the closed Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, after owner Simon Rigby declared he would bring it back into operation.
Rigby bought the building from the council for £1 in 2014 and was director of Preston Guild Hall Ltd, which went into administration last month, shutting its doors and cancelling booked shows.
The council said that it had become “abundantly clear” that a council takeover would be necessary, and had made a Special Urgency Decision to regain control of the theatre effective immediately.
It follows a day in which a statement was issued by the Guild Foundation, a charitable arm of Rigby’s business. It proclaimed that it had “stepped forward” to take over the lease of the venue, which would be reopened and managed by a company called GF Preston until “a suitable operator can be appointed”.
GF Preston was incorporated in March 2019 and lists Rigby as one of its directors.
Rigby claimed he did not want to operate the theatre himself but wanted to bring it back into operation to give the “management that have worked so hard for many years” an opportunity to “shape the future”.
Rigby’s statement was roundly rebutted by administrator Beverley Budsworth who said “no other press release had been approved in relation to any other operator” but that administrators hoped to appoint a “reputable operator” in the next few days.
“We do not recognise the right of any alleged sub-lease holder to operate Preston Guild Hall,” she said.
Administrators have now agreed to forfeit the 999-year lease held by Preston Guild Hall Ltd, meaning the theatre, in addition to the businesses that operate in the adjacent shopping arcade, are now back under council ownership. This follows the Special Urgency Decision taken by council leader Matthew Brown.
Brown said: “Over recent weeks it has become abundantly clear that it was necessary for the City Council to intervene and re-gain control of the property.
“As I have said before, the decision to transfer the Guild Hall into Mr Rigby’s ownership was the only viable decision we could make at the time, with the information we had and the stark financial situation we were in. We acted in good faith and have been let down by the unacceptable behaviour of Mr Rigby.”
Rigby said he would be taking legal advice but had not been notified by the council about “a single breach of the lease”, the Lancashire Evening Post reported.
Since January, the Guild Hall has been the subject of multiple claims of non-payment, with known allegations of debt reaching nearly £150,000.
This includes claims of unpaid box office revenues to producers and promoters including Bill Kenwright Ltd, which was the first to highlight allegations of non-payment, amounting to £70,000 for a single show.
The council said the theatre would remain closed until further notice.