The cross party Committee met last Thursday 12 November, and unanimously voted to reduce costs to the Council, agreeing that the situation is unviable in its current state and to negotiate a contract termination with Parkwood Theatres.
MBC fully supports having a theatre in Maidstone and understands the important contribution it makes to the town centre economy and the quality of life of local residents. The decision to change the way the Hazlitt is working was not made lightly by the Council which is considering alternative options for sustaining the theatre for local community groups to use and looking at reopening when it is viable and sustainable to do so.
Unfortunately, the ongoing effects of Covid-19 has meant basic commercial assumptions of the contract with Parkwood are no longer viable. The Committee noted that the subsidy to the Hazlitt was still sizeable and there is a great deal of uncertainty about when or if these conditions will change, the committee felt it could no longer be considered good value for money.
Cllr Paul Harper, Chair of the Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee at Maidstone Borough Council said:
“The Council’s overall budget for the Hazlitt Theatre is £284,000 a year. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to open the theatre since March and currently there is no obvious time when it will be able to reopen with social distancing and the rule of six. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that the Council engages with discussions with Parkwood Theatres to look at the future of the Hazlitt.
“The Arts Council turned down a request from Parkwood, the theatre’s operator, for emergency funding to keep it ready to be able to reopen. I have asked our MP for Maidstone and the Weald Helen Grant and the Parkwood Management to look at securing sufficient funding for this and the next year to cover the costs of the operation of the Theatre.”
Cllr Martin Cox, Leader of Maidstone Borough Council added:
“This has been the most unusual year and has created many issues we could not have predicted. Sadly, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to decide on the best use of our resources at this moment.
“We want to bring the building back under council control so we can better manage the finances around it during this period of uncertainty and review the re-opening of the theatre, under a new arrangement at a time when it is viable and sustainable.
“We recognise it has been a very difficult time for all the staff involved at the theatre. Sadly, the Hazlitt Theatre has been closed since March and it continues to be closed. It is a real heads vs hearts decision, the uncertain future and taking care of the tax-payers money, the termination option was unfortunately the conclusion.
“We do not underestimate the value of arts and culture and the impact it has on our wellbeing. This pandemic has shown us how incredibly important it is to value the creativity and social interaction a theatre can bring. Once we are able, we will make sure that all the community groups, theatre and dance groups continue to benefit from this fantastic asset. We look forward to welcoming back our residents, for them to enjoy the theatre at some time in the near future.”
The ERL Committee decision regarding the future of the Hazlitt decision, has now been ‘called in for scrutiny’ and will be referred to the Policy and Resources Committee where it will be discussed further on Wednesday 25 November. As per the Decision Referral Process Constitution the decision of the Policy and Resources Committee will be final.