Published: 17:38, 16 November 2020
| Updated: 18:20, 16 November 2020
A council has taken a dramatic step over the future of Maidstone's Hazlitt Theatre.
Maidstone council has ended its contract with the management company Parkwood Theatres and taken the theatre back under its own control.
The council said the move was "to protect the taxpayer and the Hazlitt Theatre."
The decision was apparently taken by the council's Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee last Thursday, although it has only been released to the public today as many expressed fears discussions, held in private, meant the venue, in Earl Street, would be closing for good.
In a statement the council said: "The borough fully supports having a theatre in Maidstone and understands the important contribution it makes to the town centre economy and the quality of life of local residents.
"The decision to change the way the Hazlitt is working was not made lightly. The council is considering alternative options for sustaining the theatre for local community groups to use and looking at reopening when it is viable and sustainable to do so."
Council leader Martin Cox said: "This has been the most unusual year and has created many issues we could not have predicted. Sadly, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to decide on the best use of our resources at this moment."
“We want to bring the building back under council control so we can better manage the finances around it during this period of uncertainty and review the re-opening of the theatre, under a new arrangement at a time when it is viable and sustainable.
“We recognise it has been a very difficult time for all the staff involved at the theatre.
"Sadly, the Hazlitt Theatre has been closed since March and it continues to be closed.
"It is a real heads vs hearts decision, the uncertain future and taking care of the taxpayers' money, the termination option was unfortunately the conclusion.
“We do not underestimate the value of arts and culture and the impact it has on our wellbeing.
"This pandemic has shown us how incredibly important it is to value the creativity and social interaction a theatre can bring.
"Once we are able, we will make sure that all the community groups, theatre and dance groups continue to benefit from this fantastic asset.
"We look forward to welcoming back our residents, for them to enjoy the theatre at some time in the near future.”
There has been an enormous public outcry in recent days with residents fearing the theatre's days were ending.
However, that may not be the end of the matter. The leisure committee's decision has now been ‘called in for scrutiny’ and will be discussed again by the policy and resources committee on Wednesday, November 25, who could overturn it.
Because of increased costs and falling incomes as a result of Covid, the council is said to be facing a £2m gap in its budget for next year.
Many famous names have also been pledging their support for the Hazlitt.