Agenda item

Open Air Theatre

To consider a report by the Director (LD) (reference 17/161) attached.



The Cabinet considered a report by the Director (LD) (Reference 17/161) in respect of proposed changes to the operation of the Open Air Theatre.  Although the report contained commercially sensitive information, the Cabinet agreed to consider the report in public session.  The Portfolio Holder, Councillor Jenkinson introduced the report which he regarded as the next stage in the continuing success story of this venue.  He noted the growing popularity of the Open Air Theatre, and that Cuffe and Taylor’s acquisition in December 2016 by Live Nation Entertainment, one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, afforded further exciting opportunities for the theatre.  Councillor Jenkinson commented on the Live Nation CEO’s recent visit to the venue and how impressed he was by the Council’s organisation and management.  The Portfolio Holder wished to convey his personal thanks to all staff involved including the Venue Manager, Mr Clark.  The Director, Mrs Dixon then provided further details about the proposals which sought to build on the existing success of the venue for the long term, by consolidating the theatre’s reputation as a recognised venue for high profile, large scale entertainment and reduce and eventually eliminate the revenue implications to the Council.  She started by noting the theatre’s continuing growth in attendances, over 72,000 people this year to date, how Cuffe and Taylor had greatly enhanced the media profile of the venue and Borough, and that according to UKMusic’s recognised formula, the theatre’s estimated value to the local economy last year was £2.5m.  Since then Cuffe and Taylor had become associated with Live Nation, and now this global entertainment company had asked to be formally assigned the benefit of the existing contract on the terms set out in the report.  The benefit of Live Nation’s involvement was that it brought an enhanced global entertainment presence to the venue and strengthened the financial covenant of the existing contractual arrangement.  Live Nation had also agreed to vary the break clause in the contract to give more certainty to the length of their commitment.  Mrs Dixon further advised that Live Nation had requested that they and the Council work together to provide a permanent decking solution in front of the stage, to increase the capacity of the venue from 5,454 to 7,456 (seated) or 7,900 (standing), thereby giving a higher revenue income and increasing the venue’s flexibility.  For example, Little Mix whose recent concert was sold out, would not have played to a smaller capacity.  The approval of the capital budget would be referred with the full details in a report to full Council for decision, but the Cabinet’s decision at this meeting would enable officers to start the preparatory work over the summer including finalising the design for the decking, undertaking newt surveys, and preparing a planning application, enabling these changes to be implemented in time for the 2018 season, subject to full Council approval.  The Portfolio Holder for Finance, Procurement and Legal welcomed these exciting proposals whilst requesting that through the competitive tendering process to be undertaken, officers explore the different decking solutions available together with costings.  The Cabinet agreed with this amendment to the resolution and echoed Councillor Jenkinson’s and Mrs Dixon’s thanks to the Venue Manager, Mr Clark and all the staff at the Open Air Theatre.

RESOLVED that the Cabinet: 

1.   note the successful season at the Open Air Theatre (“OAT”) to date,

including the benefits offered by the increase in capacity at the OAT by the installation of decking across the lake in front of the stage, and the proposals within this report to consolidate the success of the OAT to date and build for the future long term sustainability of the OAT as a recognised venue for high profile and large scale entertainment.


2.    approve a variation to the Council’s existing agreement (“Agreement”) with the promoters of shows at the OAT (formerly known as Cuffe and Taylor) to allow the assignment of the Agreement to Live Nation Music (UK) Limited (“Live”) recognising that this improves the strength of the Council’s partner in delivering shows at the OAT both in terms of corporate standing and ability to attract large scale and high profile shows for the benefit of the Borough;


3.    conditional upon the Council agreeing the recommendations below, and noting the exemption requested, delegate authority to the Director (LD) in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Tourism and Leisure and the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Procurement and Legal to:


i       enter into a contract to vary the terms of the Agreement to reflect the terms set out in this report and such other terms as they deem appropriate; and


ii      enter into a contract for the construction of the permanent decking following on from a tendering process and identification of the most cost effective permanent decking solution


4.    note that a separate report will be taken to the Overview and Scrutiny Board on the performance of the OAT during the 2017 season in due course


And recommend that full Council approve:


  1. a capital budget of [restricted figure] for the building of permanent decking at the OAT and the funding of these costs through borrowing on the proviso that these will be recovered over the course of the  Agreement either by recovery from any profit received by the Council from the staging of shows at the OAT, or should no profit be receivable, by direct payment from Live; and


2.    that the Council’s Prudential Indicators be updated to reflect the additional borrowing in respect of this scheme.



To consolidate the success of the OAT to date and build for the future sustainability of the OAT as a recognised venue for high profile and large scale entertainment whilst reducing the long term revenue impact on the Council:


-       to enable permanent decking to be put in place at the OAT thereby increasing capacity and the ability to draw in high profile artists

-       to ensure that the OAT continues to build on its success to date and attracts big name acts by using an established external promoter with a global presence in the entertainment industry