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Felixstowe Spa Closure Update

The reasons for last month’s decision by Suffolk Coastal’s Cabinet to call for leisure and entertainment companies, or those interested in forming a Trust, to come up with their ideas for the future use of Felixstowe’s Spa Theatre are set to be reviewed next week.

The Scrutiny Committee next Thursday (January 12) will consider the confidential report that was presented to Cabinet in December. Because the papers include items that are currently commercially sensitive, the Committee will have to determine whether the discussions on the Spa decision will have to be held without the public being present.

“The system of checks and balances that we have in place are that any councillor can call-in a decision made by the Cabinet, which means that it is put on hold until it can be scrutinised by this committee,” said Cllr Phillip Dunnett, Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee.

“This meeting will give us the opportunity to look carefully at the reasons that shaped the decision made by the Cabinet, including all the relevant background papers, and we can also quiz senior councillors and officers, or indeed others from outside the Council who may have useful and relevant information.

“The role of our committee when dealing with a called-in decision is not to simply agree or disagree with the decision, but rather to look at whether all the evidence was taken into account and weighed up appropriately before the decision was made,” added Cllr Dunnett.

The Cabinet had decided that the Council could no longer afford to give the necessary long-term financial commitment to the theatre, which currently receives around £250,000 a year and which needs at least £3 million in maintenance and improvements to bring it up to modern standards. Cont/d…

Explaining the Cabinet’s decision, Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Leisure, said last month: “We are faced with a theatre that is struggling to attract break-even audiences, and a pressing need to both invest in the fabric of the building and in its operating costs that this Council is not in a position to agree to.

“We will investigate whether a theatre trust like that which has taken over the running of Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre is a way forward. However, we have no choice other than to open up the prospect of running the Spa in the future to the market, to find out what leisure or entertainment proposals and potential investment outside companies and organisations may come up with. We hope to begin the process in January so we can make a firm decision on the Spa’s future by June,” added Cllr Holdcroft.

The move by Cllr Mike Deacon and others to call-in the Cabinet decision means that any work on seeking new companies with ideas for the future of the Spa, or helping those interested in seeking to set up a Trust to take over the building, has had to be put on hold.

The official letter informing the current managers, Openwide Coastal, that the Council is giving it six months notice of the ending of the contract to run the theatre has also been deferred until the outcome of next week’s meeting is known.

Meetings were also due to be held with local groups who have bookings at the Spa to explain what support and assistance the Council could offer them if it does close in the summer. These will be held as soon as possible if the original decision is confirmed.

At the Scrutiny Committee, the councillors can either back the original decision taken by Cabinet, or refer it back to Cabinet asking it to reconsider its decision and giving reasons as to why it should do so, or refer the matter to a meeting of the Full Council.

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