The Spa Pavilion is a rather fine 900-seat art-deco theatre on the sea front at Felixstowe - the sort of facility a popular seaside holiday-and-retirement town really needs, or so you'd think. It belongs, quite rightly, to the local council, Suffolk Coastal District Council.
The contract for running the Pavilion is about to be renewed. At present it is run by a firm called "Clear Channel" who managed to put on less than two shows a week last year, and were paid by the Council, in cash and kind, about £250,000. Many performances were by third-grade lookalike bands. They increased the charges for amateur groups (there are seven or eight theatre groups in the town) so much that very few can now afford to use the place. Told they will not get that sort of handout any longer, they are not submitting a tender for the new contract.
A group of local theatre and entertainment specialists (and Suffolk Coastal council-tax payers) asked Chris Robinson, the Council's Culture and Community Services Manager, for information about the new contract. She said that it's a matter for the Council and "a third party" cannot be allowed to get involved. Strange, that - local tax payers and voters are "a third party"?
The group asked to be part of the process of drawing up and awarding the new contract. The Council refused, saying they had more than enough expertise. They would not even talk about it - they said they knew best, and had plenty of experience of managing theatres.
The group then offered to take over the contract and run the Pavilion as a true resource for the local community. The Council refused to let them tender for the contract, and wouldn't even let them see it.
Originally the theatre was owned and run, very successfully, by the local town council. Then when Suffolk Coastal District Council was formed, it was handed to them. Now it is managed from their headquarters in Woodbridge, thirty miles away, and Felixstowe town councillors have been threatened with "conflict of interest" if they discuss the matter.
It all makes you wonder about hidden agendas, doesn't it? Here's a ten-year contract to run a major community resource, a popular seaside entertainment venue, and interested local parties can't even see what the contract contains. The theatre is public property and should be run for the public benefit, but actual members of the public who want to take an interest are being kept firmly at arm's length. Why?
It doesn't take a genius to come up with at least one possible scenario, does it? Something like this, perhaps ... District Council doesn't want to run the theatre itself and regards it as a white elephant. District Council makes sure that the firm that's been running the place won't want to do so in future, and that anyone else who might be interested is also "discouraged". District Council discovers that, ooh dear, no-one wants to run this lovely old theatre, what a shame, we'd better sell it. District Council sells theatre to development company which knocks it down, uses the site for luxury flats and makes several million on the deal. A number of prominent local businessmen are in pocket.
Nice. You just have to use a bit of imagination. Don't forget you read it here first.
Click here to visit the website of the "Felixstowe Fund", the local group who are being kept firmly out of the picture.
Update: Suffolk Coastal DC are up to their tricks again. It's reported in the East Anglian Daily Times on 18th February 2006 that the Herman de Stern building, currently standing derelict on the seafront, is to be demolished to make way for a lucrative housing development. Trouble is, the Suffolk Preservation Society are threatening legal action because they think the building has architectural merit and want to save it, but they've been denied access to the building so they can make their representations against the decision. They say the decision is contrary to the published plan for the neighbourhood, and has been foisted on local people in a secretive "volte-face" by the council.
To be honest, the GOS thinks the building's an eyesore and not worth saving. But that doesn't mean that local people should be ignored and thier views discounted by this remote and arbitrary council.
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