By Cllr Martin Rawson
Deputy Leader of Derby City Council
The recent announcement that Derby City Council will build a 3,000 capacity Music and Performance Venue in the Market Place has got people across the city talking.
It’s been great to hear the excitement and enthusiasm with which this major decision has been greeted by the public, businesses and the council’s partners. I share their ambition to see Derby become an even greater place to live, work and visit.
But with any project that creates such significant public interest, there’ll always be misconceptions about how and why we’ve reached our recommendation.
Perhaps the most fundamental of these talking points is the status of the existing Assembly Rooms. This issue can be considered in two parts: the extent of the fire damage and its continued viability as an entertainment venue fit for the future.
Our political opponents have said that the building could be re-opened or that the damage caused by the fire was insignificant. These assertions are not born out in reality.
First and foremost, the financial impact of a full refurbishment would be significant. The likely cost, which includes replacement of the damaged plant equipment and alterations to the foyer, would be around £10million.
But perhaps more importantly, the Assembly Rooms was making a significant loss at the time of the fire, requiring a £500,000 revenue subsidy each year and another £250,000 per year in maintenance costs. This isn’t a sustainable position for the city’s finances following years of government cuts and austerity.
By contrast, our plans for a Music and Performance venue are expected to generate a profit. Due to a better configuration we’ll deliver a flexible venue that can host significantly more events and generate 88 per cent greater footfall. That’s around 300,000 additional people visiting the city centre every year and spending their money in local shops, bars and restaurants.
What’s more, our designs will re-animate the Market Place and include space for a number of additional retail and leisure units, in comparison to the over-bearing influence the existing building has on the surrounding area.
Our proposals have captured the imagination of local and regional partners. Last summer, the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership awarded the council an £8.6m million grant towards a new venue; if we were to refurbish the Assembly Rooms this hard-won funding would be put at risk.
Through their representation on the Derby Renaissance Board, the city’s leading employers have given their full backing to our ambitious plans, while the public consultation clearly demonstrated that residents favoured a new Music and Performance Venue over a refurbished option.
We’ve also heard how live music and stand-up comedy were the events that people most wanted to attend, so we’ve prepared our recommendation on that basis.
I want to be clear from the outset: a new Music and Performance Venue has not been chosen because it’s the cheapest option, nor because it’s the option that will open in the shortest timescale. But it is the option that residents, businesses and partners have told us they want to see; it is sustainable for the council’s finances and it has the potential to transform the cultural landscape of Derby.
Moreover, it will provide a significant economic boost for the city centre and act as the catalyst needed to kick-start investment in other key sites.
We all have a tendency to look back with rose-tinted glasses; I too enjoyed many shows and performances at the Assembly Rooms in the past. But the fact remains that the venue was unpopular with promoters due to its lack of flexibility and restricted performance spaces.
The Assembly Rooms is no longer fit for purpose and any refurbishment would only temporarily extend the venue’s lifespan. By contrast, a new Music and Performance Venue can serve the city for the next 50 years.
We simply cannot allow nostalgia to limit our ambitions for the future.