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Opposition leader backs decision to get the Lichfield Garrick ‘off the books’

The leader of the opposition group on Lichfield District Council has backed the decision to get the Garrick Theatre “off the books”.

It was announced earlier this week that the venue would be given theatre trust status and move towards becoming a charity to enable it access additional funding.

At present the Garrick is funded solely by Lichfield District Council.

Leader Cllr Mike Wilcox insisted the move would bring the theatre into line with similar venues across the country.

Cllr Steve Norman

Cllr Steve Norman

But Cllr Steve Norman, leader of the Labour opposition group, believes the switch is necessary for what he described as “a vanity project”.

He said: “The theatre in the end cost nearly £6million to build, and – revealed in a question I tabled last year – the council has spent a further £210,000 of its own money, plus £60,000 from Carlsberg and £7,000 from Friends of the Garrick trying to stem the cost to the council taxpayer of this vanity project.

“In 2009/10 the annual net revenue cost to the Council was almost £900,000. Following further expenditure it has reduced to between £600,000 and £700,000 annually. So you can see the need to get it off the books.

“This is the only way to do that and I have not opposed the move.”

Cllr Norman, who represents the Summerfield ward, has been a long term critic of the Garrick project, particularly given the lack of an arts of community space to replace the Brendewood Suite in the former Leisure Centre building in Burntwood.

He has also questioned a previous decision by former leader Cllr David Smith not to turn the site of the former Arts Centre near Minster Pool into a public art gallery – instead describing the new private restaurant and flats as a building with “no architectural merit outside of a Public Lavatory design competition”.

A new board will now oversee the Garrick following the move to theatre trust status.

“There was some controversy of the composition of the board,” he said. “I managed to ensure there were two district councillors on there.

“Elected members and officers had left it to Adrian Jackson alone to find the members and while I don’t doubt his theatrical judgement, I argued that the original proposal was not really acceptable in small ‘p’ political terms. But I am content with the final board.

“Cllr Smith has always referred to it as a theatre and conference centre – but with the central hotel now not being built I believe that will be more difficult to achieve and so unlikely to bring in the daytime income he, and others, had hoped for.”

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