168 seat theatre part 1
Over the past twelve years I and the people of this Borough have been led to believe that one of the key specific goals of the Queens Parade Development was to provide the resident’s with their much longed for theatre. Sadly it turns out that the people of North Down and I have been, at best, misled yet again!
What transpired, behind closed doors on Thursday night, is that we were told that we MIGHT, just might, be getting a square hall that seats just 168 people. A hall that’s perfect for amateur boxing matches but not for plays, musicals or concerts. On Thursday night we also discovered, for the first time, that the provision of this hall/theatre IS NOT guaranteed and that there was a possibility that the hall/theatre may never rise from the dust of this expensive Council folly.
I asked these questions of the solicitor and the Town Clerk at the meeting; 1) Why was this matter not brought to our attention before we signed the contract and 2) Was there any way to plug this crazy loophole? In response both the Town Clerk and the solicitor fed me more waffle than an American truck driver could eat in a month of Sundays. Needless to say that I am still awaiting a clear answer to either of my questions.…
Eventually I proposed that we build into the contract, a provision that guarantees the residents of this Borough that a 400-seat theatre would be built with the proper provision for a stage and orchestra area. This was seconded by Councillor John Montgomery. When it came to the vote only two other Councillors voted in favour of my proposal: Alderman Leslie Cree and Councillor Montgomery. Approximately eight others abstained and eleven voted against. It was quite clear to me that the Secret Queens Parade Cabal, fronted by Councillor Farry, had clear instructions to make sure that any proposal, other than Councillor Farry’s, was defeated on that night.
But even this perfidious action pales into insignificance when we were informed about what might be built there and called a theatre. The first set of plans showed a square hall with dimensions of 3,950 square feet (63 feet by 63 feet or 19 meters by 19 meters) that was called a multi-purpose hall/theatre on the plans.
The Council’s Arts Committee, of which I am Chairman and which is made up of Arts experts from across the Borough (many with decades of experience in the theatre world), was tasked, by the Council, with the job of responding to a presentation that was made by the Developers some weeks ago. The Arts Committee UNANIMOUSLY agreed that the size allocated for the hall/theatre was SEVERLY INSUFICIENT for a theatre and that the theatre must have a seating capacity for AT LEAST 400 people or it would not be viable for the plays and concerts which take place in North Down.
When I entered the Queens Parade meeting on Thursday night I was stunned to see a set of plans in which the hall/theatre had doubled in size. (7,950 square feet) This amazing turn-about nearly had me jumping for joy until I was told by the Town Clerk, after the meeting had started and after the press were asked to leave, that the architect had added the floor area of the basement to the floor area of the hall area in order to achieve this figure. A calculation which made it appear that the area of the theatre had doubled, when in fact it had not changed at all.
In the twelve years that I have been on Council I have never seen this done before. Never! (I will leave others to make what they will of this action.) We were also informed on Thursday night that all of the backstage areas, dressing rooms, prop stores and scenery were now to be housed in the basement and that the Developers were kindly offering the performers a lift so that they and the scenery would not have to be transported up the stairs and around corridors between acts. Although how they will manage to get some of this very large scenery into an ordinary lift will be interesting to see. The last minute change was obvious
Another secret meeting, another deception, another dirty decision and, just like before, the final Queens Parade 'good news story' comes out just 2 weeks before a Council election? But at a huge price to this Borough.