Curtain up on Chichester Festival Theatre argument

A dispute over how much Chichester City Council should chip in towards the Festival Theatre’s £22m 50th anniversary building project took centre stage at a council meeting.

There was also an unprompted plea from one member for cash from reserves to be used for providing new community facilities in the Whyke Estate instead – because the money all came from the sale of the Whyke allotments for development.

The theatre had asked for £100,000, and the council’s finance committee recommended £30,000.

An amendment aimed at upping the figure to £50,000 was defeated.

Supporting the £50,000 option, city mayor Tony French said the theatre seemed to be fairly confident of getting a good slice of funding from Arts Council England, and it had pledges of £1.5m from the county council and £500,000 from the district, which satisfied the requirement for local authority support.

But the theatre had pointed out it was in Chichester, and asked the city council to support it as well.

Cllr French said the reserves were more than the city council required: it could give £50,000, and still leave a £600,000 bond.

Cllr Rankin said he did not think £30,000 reflected the level of support the city council should be demonstrating for the theatre’s role in the community.

Seconding, Cllr Clare Apel said the least the council could do was give £50,000 – it had significant reserves as a result of the sale of the allotments.

But Cllr Tony Dignum said that while no-one doubted the enormous value of the theatre, the city council should be proportionate in considering what to give – and he backed £30,000.

Cllr David Siggs called for support for a community project at Whyke, using money raised from the allotment sale. The impact of the new development on the estate would be tremendous, and they had said 10 years ago that they would be providing a community centre.

“We need to look at what we can give back to the Whyke community,” he declared.

A community building of some sort was far more important than giving £30,000 to an elitist organisation.

Cllr Martyn Bell said that in supporting a grant for the theatre, the city council could still vigorously support other projects, particularly at the Whyke estate.

Finance committee chairman Richard Plowman said £30,000 was ‘more than generous,’ and in fact his recommendation would be slightly less than this.