THE council’s cabinet meeting on September 10 underlines the problem it has in dealing with St Mary-in-the-Castle.
Councillors (both Labour and Conservative) were allowed to speak platitudes, officers reported yet another delay, there was no decision, and nobody else was allowed to say anything.
I would like to reply to them.
My colleagues and I had to vacate St Mary’s on August 31, after the council delayed its tendering process for so long that it destroyed our bookings programme, without having any other operator to hand over to.
We have just had a very busy few months, including successful Jubilee events, a Kenny Ball concert, excellent folk music concerts and the very ambitious International Composers Festival.
All this has had to stop dead, even though we have been getting many enquiries for future bookings.
The building is now empty, apart from a very few events the council itself is putting in there.
The café no longer operates, the staff have lost their jobs, and there is no public access.
In July last year, I accepted the council’s offer of a further year’s lease, on the basis that it would put St Mary’s out to tender, but to do it promptly, so that we would have a chance to make a bid while keeping our continuity of bookings.
It should have been done and dusted by Christmas. It still isn’t, and we’re well on the way to next Christmas.
It has allowed endless delays for the sole remaining bidder, without making any plans for proper long-term management if those discussions fail.
Meanwhile, it is costing the council more to keep it closed than when we were keeping it open.
This is what I suggest as a way out of the confusion, secrecy and general muddle. The council should make a decision about the bidder now.
Assuming no agreement is made with them, it should then commit itself to running the building for the long term, with a manager to keep the building operational and handle bookings.
There should be free and open access to all hirers for these bookings, based on rates of hire (including series discounts), which are determined and published quickly, rather than their usual pace, which would disgrace a snail.
We would then have some chance of putting on all those events that established and prospective users want to put on, and audiences want to go to.