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Ed Vaizey brands council shortsighted for selling register office to Wetherspoons
A CABINET Minister today (TUES SEP 17) waded into a row over a community theatre, branding a North-East council “shortsighted” for favouring a pub chain over a theatre group.
Culture Secretary and Conservative MP Ed Vaizey met members of Earthbeat Theatre Group in Saltburn yesterday and talked with group founder Tony Galuidi about the group’s failed bid to convert Guisborough’s former register office into a community theatre.
Redcar & Cleveland Council's Cabinet voted in July to sell the register office to JD Weatherspoons pub chain, despite strong interest for a “community asset transfer” from Earthbeat, which is a theatre group for adults with learning difficulties.
Mr Vaizey spoke with members of the group and accused the council of only looking at the short-term financial benefit of selling to a pub chain.
“If the council was more imaginative they would see that giving Earthbeat a permanent home would benefit the whole town. This charity has saved £200,000 to convert the building and have a cinema there for the whole community. It would help attract longer-term investment off the back of it.”
Earthbeat was hoping to seek a community asset transfer, a Big Society scheme championed by the coalition government, to allow groups to take over surplus public buildings. The council looked at four bids, including Earthbeat’s, which was not a cash bid for the building.
Mr Vaizey added: “As a Government we introduced the idea of community asset transfers because we want to encourage councils to really make their buildings work.
“In this case the community has made their feelings quite clear.
“We can’t make the council change their mind but the local MP, Tory councillors and the Conservative Parliamentary candidate Will Goodhand are all supporting Earthbeat. No-one minds if the council performs a U-turn on this.”
Redcar & Cleveland Council leader George Dunning said Mr Vaizey was “naive” to think the council could go back on a decision which had been through the full council process, and said performing a U-turn would leave it open to legal action from Wetherspoons.
He offered to meet Mr Galuidi to discuss alternative venues for the theatre group and said: “I was advised by officers that the registry office was not fit for purpose for a community theatre group.
“We have a list of other buildings available and we are prepared to discuss the possibility of these with Earthbeat.
“Wetherspoons is spending £1.5m converting the building and they are bringing 50 jobs to the town. We will have a capital receipt for the building which is what the Government is encouraging councils to do.
“The decision has been through the proper council processes and I believe it was the right decision, for Earthbeat too, because the building was not suitable for them.”
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