THOUSANDS of pounds of taxpayers’ money could be loaned to a theatre company to save its multi-million pound project from collapsing.
Portsmouth City Council is seeking to give £150,000 to the New Theatre Royal in a bid to complete its £4.5m renovation project.
The venue, on Guildhall Walk, has been fundraising for its major redevelopment, which includes rebuilding new rehearsal spaces and a second, smaller theatre, for the past four years.
Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, admitted the project was ‘over budget’ and has been running behind schedule and needs the authority’s help.
‘There have been a number of complications,’ she said.
‘If the council does not give this money to the New Theatre Royal, the completion of the theatre’s regeneration would not complete.
‘The theatre is now working to a strict timeline in order to complete.
‘We now have council officers on the board who are feeding back regular updates.’
She added: ‘When times are hard and we have been going through cuts, it’s important there is a strong cultural provision in the city and give something back to people who pay their taxes.’
Cllr John Ferrett, Labour group leader, said he hopes the money will be paid back once the theatre is up and running.
But he warned culture and leisure facilities may have to face cuts in the future as the council looks to save money.
He said: ‘Clearly, the council is having to make cuts to other services like children’s services.
‘No-one envisaged the sort of financial cuts the council has had to make over the past few years, and I think culture and leisure establishments have to start being sustainable on their own.’
He added: ‘Over the years, the council has given a significant contribution in subsidies to the New Theatre Royal – around £80,000 a year.
‘I assume that the extra £150,000 was not expected to be needed. But given the size of the project and the money that has already been spent, it would be in no ones interest to see the project fall down if the council can provide a loan which hopefully they can repay.’
The New Theatre Royal’s renovation work was meant to be completed last year with the theatre opening in the autumn.
When approached by The News, the theatre refused to comment on the delay in opening and the £150,000 loan.
A final decision over the loan will be made by the full council at a meeting on Tuesday in Portsmouth Guildhall.