Friday, 7 August 2009

Southport Cultural Centre-updated

There has been much interest in the future of the Southport Arts Center complex including the Library and Art Gallery. The buildings are in need of renovation. At a recent presentation to councillors in Southport it became clear that action needs to be taken.
When the building was last 'renovated' it was a bit of a botched job by all accounts. Work clearly needs to be done on the electrics, the roof and structure. It seems at least probable that it would have to close in the short term whether we go ahead with this project or not. Ronnie Fearn was appearing in Panto this year and allegedly had to bring a bucket on with him to catch the rain from the leaking roof.

So the search has been on for alternative premises. Ronnie-who as cabinet member for Leisure/Art/Tourism -made it clear that he was not happy with the urgency that this had been treated and had himself pushed from facilities like Church Halls to be explored. He announced at the meeting that he hope an agreement would soon be signed. The initial trawl of empty shops etc yielded nothing. It is ridiculous that the property companies would rather keep empty properties than lower their rents. It makes you believe in site value rating.

As always there was a choice between doing a patch up job-fully funded by the council or seeking external funds to do a 'once in a generation' make over. If external funding was available then there can be little doubt which is the best option.

We were told at an early briefing of Southport councillors at the art gallery (very few Tories turned up) that it would cost £7 million (yes I've double-checked this recently !) to do what needs to be done to properly repair all these outworn building...making them compliant with legislation including disabled access/facilities. This figure followed a detailed professional, independent survey. A major problem is that these buildings are all listed and repairs etc have to use very expensive traditional materials e.g. no plastic gutters, even if they match perfectly.

"Why the rush, readers may ask ? The biggest chunk of money, out of apotential cocktail of cash from various non-council sources, is from the government Seascape scheme. But there is a deadline for work to have been progressed which is October next year, otherwise we lose the grant. This can only be achieved by closing all the buildings so that contractors can have a complete site to work on. Sadly, shutting and dealing with the venues one-by-one, which could obviously help the jobs difficulty, cannotbe done.The government's Seascape scheme emerged from the report of a parliamentary select committee which investigated the specific serious economic problems facing seaside towns. This inquiry stemmed directly from the pressure of our MP John Pugh

The complex is a great asset to the town providing a venue for schools, amateur opera and drama groups as well as a place for professional theatre productions and music. The upcoming programme developed for the borough including Roger McGough, Alexi Sayle and the poet laureate Carol An Duffy is typical of the quality of the people who visit. The full programme is here and the Atkinson Art Gallery site is here.

(As an aside I got a flyer from the Art Gallery advertising the picture of the month for August and a related talk. The picture is 'In the Venusberg' by John Collier and is shown on Wikipedia website as an example of his work-altho I don't think they say that it is in Southport-that the picture on the left. The picture is very much in the tradition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and is often dismissed as Victorian gentleman's porn. The thing that amused me was the slogan blazoned on the flyer was 'family friendly'. Incidentally that is not the only John Collier that is in the gallery, his Lilith cause quite a stir a few years back when it was lent to a major London exhibition on the Victorian Nude-it would be interesting to hear a family friendly exposition of the role of the snake in that picture.)
There is little doubt that many of us are frustrated about the council's media response to these goings on. Rumours and anxiety have multiplied in the absence of authoritative statements. We have a good story to tell here. If we bring this off-and we have a good chance-it will be brilliant for the Town. We need to get on and tell the story and explain what we are doing.
After the meeting the council press department issued the following statement:

Cultural Centre

A spokesman for Sefton Council said: "Southport's new multi-million-pound cultural centre has been discussed by Sefton's Cabinet today.

"The proposal, which links up Lord Street's Grade Two listed arts centre, library and art gallery, will include an improved theatre, museum and music venue.

"The cabinet fully supported the cultural centre proposals, subject to the availability of further funding, and asked for a detailed report on the current position relating to the scheme, the financial implications and the project management plan to be brought to the next cabinet meeting.

"A lead councillor will be appointed to be responsible for the project management of the scheme and the leisure director will be giving a presentation of the current design proposals and plans to the cabinet.

"The personnel director has also been asked to start negotiations with staff and the unions."

The one bit of the resolution (which was unanimously) that the cabinet made which failed to get into the press release was the instruction that the next meeting should receive a media strategy for dealing with this project.....................