Criticism of theatre cut from NCC plan

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:50 23/06/2014

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Negative references to the Theatre Royal's financial performance have been expunged from the Nelson City Council's annual plan after councillor Pete Rainey stepped in at the 11th hour.

The 101-page 2014-15 plan was adopted at a full council meeting last Thursday. The only change was to the section on the theatre.

Four sentences were excised, leaving: "After reviewing financial information, council is of the view that the Theatre Royal is a key community asset and makes a valuable contribution that is worthy of additional council funding.

"For this reason the council has increased the operational grant to the theatre in 2014-15 by $115,000 to a total of $220,000."

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said the council's officers deserved credit for putting together a very thorough and robust plan after months of work. She said the council was still able to make changes to the wording, and the Theatre Royal section was "reflective of the historical situation rather than our view post-decisions".

Deputy Mayor Paul Matheson opposed the change.

"I think we need a commentary," he said. "We're asking for an increase in funding. If we take that out, there's not an explanation for the increase."

He said the theatre had "a chequered history" and an explanation should be in the annual plan.

However, Reese said she was "very comfortable" with the proposed wording.

Rainey, who is a long-time supporter of the theatre and chairs the council's works and community services committee, said he was reluctant to bring up such an item on the brink of the plan being adopted, but he felt it was "quite a historic moment".

"We're on the verge of doing something that's in line with our arts policy, and I think the original wording was inappropriate."

The Theatre Royal was a modernised, fully professional theatre, and one of the busiest in the country, he said.

"It's air-conditioned, state-of-the-art, earthquake strengthened to code, fully protected from flooding with a dedicated pumping system."

It had been rebuilt with an unprecedented 50 per cent government contribution and completed in an open environment where council support "was not always easy to achieve", Rainey said. Its ongoing operational costs were no different in scale to those of many other council-funded facilities.

The theatre was run by a trust, but it was planned that the city would take ownership of it, with the path to that becoming clearer.

"The fact that the theatre is included in this annual plan is a cause for celebration, not criticism."

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The biggest point, Rainey said, was "if it weren't for the tenacity of the people who saw that project finished, this city would be without any operating purpose-built performance venue at all". This was why he had approached the mayor to ask that the words in the plan be changed.

WHAT WAS CUT:

"The Theatre Royal continues to experience financial difficulties despite high community use and commercial bookings.

"After being advised in December 2013 that the ongoing viability of the theatre was in jeopardy, council undertook a detailed review of the Theatre Royal's financial position.

"The initial budgets produced by the trust have proven to be unrealistic."

- The Nelson Mail

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