Keep St Mary’s as arts centre say petitioners

A PETITION has been launched to keep historic venue St Mary-in-the-Castle as an arts centre, when the current contract comes to an end this summer.

It has been launched by Nick Perry, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman.

After speaking to current tenant Barbara Rogers, he is concerned that the council is made aware of the strong local feeling on the issue.

He said: “I think St Mary-in-the-Castle, along with the pier, is one of the features of the seafront which people hold in high regard.

“It is not just a benefit for Hastings, but regionally it is feted as a fantastic venue for arts and performance.”

The lease for the seafront venue is being put up for tender, with the current contract ending in August this year.

If a new occupier cannot be found, it may close.

The council’s requirements for prospective tenants include that it must be available to the community for a minimum of 100 days every year and occupiers must respect and maintain the fixtures and fittings.

Nick Perry’s petition, which he hopes to present to Hastings Borough Council, is available online at www.har0ld.org.uk.

In a letter to the Observer this week Barbara Rodgers hit out at the council over its handling of the venue, saying: “We have been working for three years under the extreme difficulty of short-term licences, and last summer I was forced to turn away far too many important booking enquiries for the autumn and 2012. We are not going to go through that again, so we will wind up at the end of August as already agreed.”

Council leader Jeremy Birch said earlier this month the council had been ‘completely upfront’ over the matter although a Government decision over the Myplace bid for St Mary’s to become a youth-run cultural centre had taken a long time and was eventually turned down last year.

After thanking Mrs Rogers for doing ‘a great job’, he added: “We have no preconceived views about who might express an interest in taking over and as I have said previously, we are looking for tenants who will run the building for arts, education, community or other uses that are appropriate for its heritage status.”

• See our letters section to read Mrs Rogers’ letter.