Leicester's Curve theatre debacle

August 13, 2012 5:25 PM

Last week, Leicester’s elected Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, launched a scathing attack on his predecessors at the City Council over their hapless management of a theatre project. The Curve theatre cost more than twice what was originally budgeted and was labelled as “the most disastrously overspent project in the city’s history” by Sir Peter. It is all too reminiscent of a similar waste of taxpayers' cash over in the West Midlands - the now infamous The Public, in West Bromwich.

Of the initial £26million budget for the Curve, the council’s contribution was supposed to total £4.4million. However, changing designs, increasing costs and insufficient sponsorship led to the project running more than £35m over budget with the council’s final input clocking in at £36.8million – an increase of more than 700 per cent.

When Sir Peter’s comments were put to Councillor Ross Willmott, who led the council when the project began, he dismissed them as “absurd” before adding that “It does no good talking down a project that has proved a success.” But his remarks completely miss the point if important lessons can be heeded from these costly mistakes.

Meanwhile, Haymarket Theatre (the Curve’s predecessor), lies empty in the city centre. A buyer is yet to be found for the site on which the council has a lease until 2073 and has set an asking price of £500,000. The disused site is costing Leicester’s taxpayers £120,000 a year in maintenance costs and empty property rates.

Residents of Leicester can only hope that Connecting Leicester, the mayor’s new plans to improve parts of Leicester city centre, do not turn into another taxpayer-funded farce.Last week, Leicester’s elected Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, launched a scathing attack on his predecessors at the City Council over their hapless management of a theatre project. The Curve theatre cost more than twice what was originally budgeted and was labelled as “the most disastrously overspent project in the city’s history” by Sir Peter. It is all too reminiscent of a similar waste of taxpayers' cash over in the West Midlands - the now infamous The Public, in West Bromwich.

Of the initial £26million budget for the Curve, the council’s contribution was supposed to total £4.4million. However, changing designs, increasing costs and insufficient sponsorship led to the project running more than £35m over budget with the council’s final input clocking in at £36.8million – an increase of more than 700 per cent.

When Sir Peter’s comments were put to Councillor Ross Willmott, who led the council when the project began, he dismissed them as “absurd” before adding that “It does no good talking down a project that has proved a success.” But his remarks completely miss the point if important lessons can be heeded from these costly mistakes.

Meanwhile, Haymarket Theatre (the Curve’s predecessor), lies empty in the city centre. A buyer is yet to be found for the site on which the council has a lease until 2073 and has set an asking price of £500,000. The disused site is costing Leicester’s taxpayers £120,000 a year in maintenance costs and empty property rates.

Residents of Leicester can only hope that Connecting Leicester, the mayor’s new plans to improve parts of Leicester city centre, do not turn into another taxpayer-funded farce.

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