The Council’s Regeneration Consultant will provide the Committee with a verbal update on how this regeneration project is progressing.
The Regeneration Consultant in providing his verbal update to the Committee confirmed that he planned to share a copy of the presentation that had been provided to Members of the Committee at a briefing held on 7 December 2022.
This briefing had been organised following the last meeting of the Committee on 20 October 2022 where a project update had been provided by Mace Consultants Ltd and where Members of the Committee had criticised two major areas of the scheme being the size of the auditorium and the look and design of the outside of the building.
A presentation was then shared to the meeting provided by Nicholas Hare Architects. This set out the key stages of the project and an explanation surrounding what would be needed to provide an increased (450 seat) auditorium that would be compliant with fire regulations and would be operable as a theatre. A lot of work had been undertaken with Arun Arts and with Theatre Plan, theatre consultants for this project. The remaining consultants making up the project team were also highlighted in terms of the work being undertaken to bring the project up to RIBA Stage II.
Members were reminded that Full Council had resolved to proceed with the project and design for a 378 auditorium, but this had now been revised and increased to 386 seats with the project team working to add in extra seats wherever it could. There had been several questions raised at the last meeting about increasing the auditorium capacity, as the original business case put together for the LUF bid had been based on an auditorium of 450 seats. Since then, there had been a lot of survey work and many technical designs undertaken to see how feasible that was. A slide was shown illustrating the existing plan of what the theatre looked like now with the control room behind the high level seating. The Chair asked if the control room was necessary at the back of the auditorium and it was confirmed that Arun Arts and Theatre Plan had confirmed that this was required.
The Stage II plans that the Architects had designed provided 386 seats with a number of seats at the back with the sound booth being located in the middle at the back. Plans were provided showing the existing Stage II section which had been reprofiled to provide more seats looking forward onto the stage rather than the previously lower height. It was explained that there were ways to increase capacity; one was infilling the crossover row; one was moving the rear wall of the auditorium and adding seats to the side galleries. All of these options would be required to achieve an auditorium containing 450 seats. It was confirmed that there were a number of challenges that accompanied these options. One was sight lines, the seating on the side galleries had restricted sight lines, but the main problem would be the moving of the back wall. If this was moved this would mean the loss of disabled parking bays to Belmont Street. These were considerable challenges that had been rejected by the project team at an early stage with the Architect also accepting these. The total cost provided by the consultants in providing the additional seating, based on the architect’s drawings, was £2m to increase the auditorium space by 64 seats. This equated to £31,250 per seat with a predicted payback period of 100 years. It was highlighted that Members could ask the project team to go back and bring a further report to a future meeting of the Committee on a 450 seat scheme, but that this would require Full Council being asked to fund the project by an additional £2m, without a business case and with no support from Arun Arts who had confirmed that they were happy with the current proposals. There was also risk that the Levelling-Up timescales would not be met. These were the issues that Members needed to be aware of in considering a 450 seat option.
The presentation then turned to the elevation concerns previously expressed by the Committee. At the briefing, Members had been shown different elevational approaches and different forms of massing. The original business case elevation that members liked was shown and the issues surrounding having that amount of glass were highlighted. The Stage II scheme shown on 20 October 2022 had been reviewed as Members had felt it too be too stark and blocky and so the architects had undertaken a considerable amount of work in providing some options.
The alternative options shown were:
· The Wave Option with the features and cost increases being explained
· The Cube Option with the features and cost increases being explained
· The Refined Option with the features and cost increased being explained
· Roofing options were also highlighted
· What the elevations might be treated with and how this would look – considering other buildings in the locality which were also shown
The Regeneration Consultant then concluded his presentation stating that at the briefing held on 7 December 2022, the majority of members had expressed support to proceed with the scheme with a 386 seat auditorium and had liked the Wave and the Refined design options with further support being expressed for a buff brick exterior. The next step was to take this forward to Stage III design working with the planners on these two options so that a further report could be brought back to a future meeting of the Committee.
The Chair then called a short ten minute adjournment due to a camera problem in the Chamber. This was proposed by Councillor Gunner and seconded by Councillor Pendleton and unanimously approved by the Committee.
The meeting then resumed. The Chair thanked the Regeneration Consultant for his detailed presentation and invited debate.
A very detailed debate took place. There were Councillors who wanted further clarification on the costs associated with providing a 450 seat auditorium. This was provided. Discussion then focused on information that they had previously received which they felt was contradictory in terms of the quality of acts that the new theatre would be able to attract as the town grew as a result of this regeneration. Questions were also asked around whether the Government would ask or demand for the LUF funding to be returned if project timescales were not met. Questions were asked around if the government were kept up to date and if the council did deliver a project broadly in line with what was initially submitted it would be difficult for the government to do this.
There were points made that it was vital to get this project right and that there was an awareness of suggestions put forward by other Councillors to rebuild and explore another planning application for 500 seats with another architect. There was a Councillor confirming that he would like the council to have this conversation with the Government to ensure that the council was getting this right. In terms of the design, the options shown were a definite improvement, however there were concerns about spilling onto the Place St Maur as it was accurate to say that the Place was more of a tight space than it was expected it to be following its redevelopment and so there were Councillors who wanted to understand more of the impact this might have in using the Place as an events space which was its intention. It was important for Councillors to understand the full support package for Arun Arts to ensure their sustainability throughout and after the project.
Other Councillors confirmed that they liked the Wave and Refined options and preferred the lightening of the colour of the building which fitted in more with the marine seaside environment replacing the previous heavy dark brick. A concern was that Councillors were being presented with an all or nothing option on extra seats either to consider the whole 450 but with little or any options of somewhere in between at a lower cost. How much would it cost to use side aisles? There was no issue with partially obscured sight lines from the positions shown in the presentation and seat prices always reflect this and was not an issue for the public. Various questions were asked about how many seats could be added in and whether it would be possible to cantilever out over the pavement rather than take the whole of the back out extending the building out which would be less costly. What were the options and what were the costs?
The Regeneration Consultant confirmed that the Architects had been asked to look at potentials to just put some seats down the side aisles and so he would come back with some discussion on this for the next meeting. If this was possible to fit in, then it would be done. Cantilevering over the pavement over disabled parking spaces would be very expensive as a structural slab would be required and the walkway was needed underneath to get from one side to the other for escape purposes. Discussion also took place over the location of the control box and if this was moved could extra seating be placed.
Following more detailed discussion, many Members of the Committee confirmed that they liked the revised options presented and questions were asked about the maintenance costs for the brick and rendered options and how regularly maintenance work would need to be undertaken. Members also confirmed that they were happy with the roof specification reconfirming that this needed to be a statement building. Questions were asked about the size of the canopy and the café and bar area.
A request was made for the PowerPoint presentation to be sent to all Members of the Council.
Following further discussion, the Chair reflected on the debate that had taken place confirming that the Committee preferred the Wave and Refined options. He outlined that he would like to see more flair injected into the project in terms of materials, but accepted that this would be for the Planning Committee to agree. It was confirmed that the project would continue to proceed with its development going to the next stage based on the 386 seat option and wave design.