To consider a joint report by the Chief Executive and Director (NE) (reference 17/05) attached.
The Council considered a joint report by the Chief Executive and Director (NE) (Reference 17/05) seeking the Council’s approval to allocate £4m for the demolition of the Futurist Theatre and adjoining buildings and the stabilisation of the cliff.
The report was introduced by the Leader, Councillor Bastiman who reminded the meeting that it had been demonstrated that a theatre operation on that site was not sustainable and subsequent to expert opinions, this Council’s Executive made the decision to demolish the Futurist Theatre and adjacent buildings. The Cabinet asked officers to finalise details of this complex demolition and identify funds. Council then approved a £4million budget as part of its financial strategy for 2016/17. The funding was a key decision and whilst monies were allocated in the financial strategy, Councillor Bastiman had always insisted that the Council make the final decision to allocate the monies. He referred to the late requests to defer this decision to give more time to develop feasibility studies and business plans to safeguard the theatre, which had a familiar ring to them. He recalled the Cabinet in 2010 giving the promoters of the People’s Trust 12 months to produce firm proposals supported by a business plan without any substantive response. He referred to reports spanning over 20 years from different administrations of this Council all considering the future of the theatre, acknowledging its shortcomings and the need to redevelop the site in one way or another. The Council had engaged with experts to assess the proposals and long term sustainability of the theatre. These experts have come to the conclusion that the recent eleventh hour submissions from the Save the Futurist Group were without substance. He therefore encouraged Members to listen to the debate and carefully assess all the information and arguments and then make a decision as to the allocation of the funding as he would be doing. He urged members not to delay the decision which would put doubts in the minds of developers who wished to work with the Council and invest in the future of the Borough.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Legal and Procurement, Councillor Mallory then addressed some concerns Members had made in respect of financial matters. She reminded the meeting that at the time the Council approved the £4m allocation for the redevelopment of the Futurist site as part of the Financial Strategy 2016-2026 last February, that figure was based on internal working estimates and anticipated land values. Councillor Mallory had undertaken to provide further details and full figures at a later date, which were now incorporated in this report. Of the £4m, £2.5m would be taken from the Capital Development Fund, and the remaining £1.5m borrowed. She refuted categorically unfounded speculation that it had been agreed to sell the site for £600k after the demolition and stabilisation works. It was intended for the site to remain in Council ownership, and the site’s value would be independently assessed and reflect market value at that time. Councillor Mallory further commented that over the previous 20 years the Council had spent some £1.6m on subsidies for the theatre. She then outlined the scenario and financial implications of deciding against the proposed works. Officers would then undertake an assessment of the long term stability of the King Street Cliff and address any isolated slope stability issues on the whole of the site identified by previous site investigations. Any subsequent maintenance costs to ensure the building met health and safety requirements would be met from the £4m allocation. However, the Council would be left with a decaying building for which the ongoing maintenance costs would fall to the residents of the Borough, and more importantly, the Council would have missed the opportunity to develop the site with the massive investment proposed by Flamingo Land.
The Portfolio Holder for Project Leadership, Harbours, Coast and Flood Protection then provided further details of the technical aspects of the proposed scheme. Following the Cabinet decision in September 2014 about the future of the site, consulting engineers were engaged to provide advice in regard to basic options for a safe method by which the building could be demolished whilst ensuring the stability of the cliff and adjacent properties in the vicinity of the site. The safety of the adjacent properties was of the utmost priority in the work to prepare the necessary Feasibility Report. A number of possible scenarios were provided by the consultant engineers. These were discussed both internally and with the consultants before further work was authorised on the preferred scheme that appeared to fit the criteria with the likelihood of providing most Value for Money. The basis of this favoured plan included the installation of many circular piles, basically along the line of the existing retaining wall behind the Futurist building. Ground investigation was undertaken to ascertain the makeup and strength of the cliff. Eventually an estimate for the installation of a system of vertical piling together with ground anchors or soil nailing was provided. The basis of this scheme was noted at paragraph 5.4 of the report. That scheme involved installing steel piles that were then filled with concrete and would be tied back into the existing cliff using ground anchors. The piles would penetrate about 9.5 metres into the ground and could protrude as much as 10 metres above ground level. When costed out, this was considered to be too expensive at circa £5 million. Officers were therefore instructed to undertake further work to bring forward a suitable project but at a reduced cost. Paragraph 5.5 emphasised that officers were tasked with working with leading consulting engineers, hence the work undertaken by Arup which was a world renowned company of many years standing. Last year, discussions with Arup commenced which led to an alternative way of viewing the potential project. Willmott Dixon who were constructing the Leisure Village were also asked to become involved to bring their practical experience to the table. This joint approach ensured there was both theoretical and practical expertise working to bring forward an appropriate scheme. This led to looking deeper into the basic cause of the overall problem rather than merely a solution, i.e. the mass of the soil above the building, much of which had been deposited during the construction of former buildings no longer on the site. It was suggested that, by removing some of the earth from the higher part of the slope, including some of the backfill that had been previously placed on the naturally occurring cliff, this would significantly reduce the risk to the stability of the cliff. It also could provide additional opportunities for investment and development. This work was estimated at £4.6 million, which again was considered to be too expensive. Further Value Engineering discussions took place, as per normal practice in designing such a scheme, and eventually secured an estimate of £3.96 million whilst still fulfilling the project criteria. This was the basis of the report before Members – based on the Feasibility Report that was the first step in any similar potential project. The report showed how the demolition could be accomplished whilst securing a greater degree of confidence in the stability of the surrounding cliff plus it would create two significant areas affording the opportunity for development and investment. There had been concern that the formal report into the findings of the latest ground investigation would not be available until later this month. That was the situation but, shortly before Christmas, an interim report was received which substantiated the earlier calculations. This allowed the report before Members to be published at the earliest possible opportunity. He was pleased that a good number of colleagues attended the presentation by Arup and Willmott Dixon on Friday during which they went through the method in far greater detail than this summary, although the basis of the scheme was outlined in paragraph 5.12. Paragraph 5.13 indicated the work that would be undertaken, as Phase 1 of the project, if the recommendations were approved at the meeting. A vital part of this work included ensuring the safety of the adjacent buildings. At the briefing it was clarified that there were no plans to undertake any excavating in close proximity to any of the existing buildings adjoining the site. Phase 1 of the work would provide the detailed design and specification for the work to be carried out in Phase 2. This was normal practice in a scheme of this complexity and importance, indeed a similar process was already underway with both the Spa Cliff Stabilisation and Whitby Piers projects and had already been most successful with the Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme. Whilst the formal report from the latest ground investigations was still awaited, just before Christmas he received a draft report that provided the additional confidence to publish the report on today’s agenda. As the method of ground investigation used was a simple one with the physical results being immediately available, it was possible to confirm that high degree of confidence before the receipt of the formal documentation. The final report would cover such additional items as the chemical analysis to indicate whether the made up ground was suitable for reuse or needed to be disposed of offsite. But this would have no influence on the basic method of demolition proposed in the Feasibility Report. Councillor Cockerill then referred to concerns raised in recent weeks about the demolition and stabilisation process, particularly from the owners or occupiers of the surrounding properties. Clear assurances had been received that all concerns had been taken into consideration in the work to specify a safe and efficient method to take the work forward. This was clearly evidenced by the fact that there was a piece of land some metres in width that remained undisturbed between existing buildings and the start of the excavations. Willmott Dixon and Arup confirmed this together with the fact that, in the unlikely event that any problem occurred during or within at least 10 years of the completion of the project, there would be insurance cover of £10 million per event in place. Officers confirmed that this was a standard condition of the contract. Councillor Cockerill added that he was pleased that Councillor Vesey asked about the relative experience of both Arup and Willmott Dixon and received very satisfactory replies. From a personal point of view, he had experience of working with Arup in the late 1990s and found them to be very experienced, qualified and thorough in their attention to detail. Councillor Cockerill then moved the recommendation in the report, which was seconded by Councillor Mallory.
The Labour Group Leader, Councillor Siddons then addressed the meeting. He was critical of the paucity of information before Members in order to make this significant decision. He noted the absence of: clear proposals for the site; the promised technical reports; sight of any agreement with Flamingo Land just a statement of their strong commitment to the scheme; any indication of pre-planning work; evidence of recent communications with residents; evidence of how the scheme would kickstart the regeneration of the wider area; and most importantly, what return the Council would obtain for this £4m investment. Councillor Siddons also criticised assertions made by the Leader and Councillor Cockerill that the decision to demolish had already been made. He queried why there were no detailed designs for the scheme, only sketches, why there had apparently been no dialogue between the developer and planners, and no dialogue with the wider membership of the Council. He believed there was still much work to do before a decision could be made, and urged Members not to support a project about which they knew little.
Other councillors then commented on the proposals. Councillor Lynskey questioned the business sense in expending £4m on the demolition of the site when the site may be sold for substantially less, prompting Councillor Mallory to reiterate that the £600k sale was an unfounded rumour. Councillor Cluer noted the substantial information which had now been forwarded to councillors in respect of this decision in the form of officer reports and submissions from Save the Futurist, giving insufficient time for Members to consider it all. She proposed instead that Save the Futurist be given more time to prepare a properly researched business case, questioned that the recommendations carried no environmental implications, and urged that in interests of greater transparency and openness the decision be deferred to allow more time, and that a recorded vote be taken on the matter. The proposal to undertake a recorded vote was carried. Other Members questioned the haste to make this decision, highlighted the unanswered questions around the cliff’s stability, the £4m cost of demolition (shouldn’t the developer foot pay for this?), and instead believed credence should be given to Save the Futurist’s arguments and plans. Further points made against were: the lack of consultation with affected building owners and residents, the restrictive covenants which had not been properly investigated, the damage to the night time economy by demolishing the theatre, the lack of a business plan and other supporting information behind the Flamingo Land scheme, the need for more caution and consideration of all the available options before a final decision was made, the high environmental impact of demolition, the importance of preserving the resort’s heritage, and the significant public support for retaining the theatre. On the other side of the argument, Councillor Chance drawing on his 48 years’ experience in the entertainment and tourist industry, noted that the cost of bringing the theatre up to the standard required to take large touring productions would far outstrip the cost of demolition. He maintained that the latest business plan issued the previous week by the Save the Futurist group simply did not stand up to scrutiny. It was at best aspirational and the estimates were pure guesswork. The whole programme was predicated on attracting 203 performances of ‘mega musicals’. This roughly equated to 29 weeks of musicals at the standard seven performances a week – highly optimistic. He then compared this scenario to the Manchester Palace Theatre and the context within which it operated. The Save the Futurist’s income projections were similarly wildly optimistic and should the Futurist build a programme based on touring plays, then this would place it in direct competition with the Stephen Joseph Theatre. The theatre would be an ongoing money pit, and the Council could afford to subsidise and maintain it no longer. Chair of the Futurist Scrutiny Task Group, Councillor Jeffels commented that it was clear based on all the evidence provided to Members over a number of months that the Futurist theatre in its current form had had its day. An exciting but sustainable development was required on that site, and the Council should continue to support the town’s other significant attractions such as the Scarborough Spa, Stephen Joseph Theatre, and Open Air Theatre. Other Members condemned the level of vitriol and personal abuse which they believed had sullied the public debate on this matter. The Portfolio Holder, Councillor Cockerill rounded off the debate by noting the pressure which had been applied by some on councillors to vote against the demolition, but that this was not the only view among his constituents. A number of ideas had been put forward by various groups, and for that he applauded their tenacity, but without the necessary fully costed and realistic business case he could not support retaining and modifying the existing building. By contrast, the proposed project in the report would create two areas for development and investment which he believed had the better likelihood of achieving a sustainable outcome for the benefit of the town.
The recommendations in the report were then put to the vote and were carried as recorded below:
RESOLVED that the Council approve the allocation of £4m for the demolition of the Futurist Theatre and adjoining buildings and the stabilisation of the cliff.
Following Cabinet’s decision to the ‘in-principle’ demolition of the Futurist Theatre and adjoining buildings and Council’s subsequent allocation of £4m for the redevelopment of the Site, this report seeks confirmation of the funding from Council to proceed with the next stage of redevelopment being the demolition of the Futurist Theatre to provide a cleared site for redevelopment.