By Charlotte Green Local Democracy Reporter
PLANS for a new £27 million Oldham Coliseum, moving from its current location on Fairbottom Street to Southgate Street, have been scrapped.
Oldham Council leader Cllr Sean Fielding says the ambitious proposals have been axed due to the ‘current financial climate’.
Kevin Shaw, artistic director and chief executive of the Oldham Coliseum, has also announced this month he is stepping down after 17 years.
The new building was given the green light under former council leader Jean Stretton.
The Southgate theatre would have been much bigger, with a 550-seat main auditorium and a 175-seat flexible studio.
Work had been expected to start on site early this year, with completion originally scheduled for 2020.
But now it has been revealed that the town hall has been in discussions with the Coliseum Theatre and Arts Council England about the original plans for the new-build site.
Later this month, the cabinet will now be asked to approve feasibility work on a range of alternative options which will reflect ‘changing requirements’.
In a statement, Cllr Fielding said: “In the current financial climate we’ve got to spend our funds wisely.
“That means reviewing our works and costs to ensure we get the best value for money for the taxpayers of the town.
“A lot has changed since the idea was first discussed six years ago, including the costs involved.
“So at this stage we are not going to continue with the current proposals to build a new Coliseum on the Southgate Street site.
“However, we’d like to make this clear: the council and our partners at Oldham Coliseum and Arts Council England remain fully committed to providing a high-quality performance space in the town centre, which is relevant, sustainable, and delivers high quality theatre.
“Over the next few months we will continue to draw up plans with the Coliseum and Arts Council England for a fit for purpose facility.”
However, proposals for a new ‘cultural centre offer’ in the town centre, in the form of a new Heritage and Arts Centre to be based at the historic Oldham library and art gallery on Union Street will be going ahead.
A report also going before cabinet will ask members to give the green light to start works, which could begin early next year.
The council has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of just under £3.4million for the project.
Chiefs say the venue will bring ‘new life’ to the Grade Two-listed building and help create a ‘vibrant cultural complex’ which will sit alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library and the Lifelong Learning Centre.
Cllr Fielding added: “The new Heritage and Arts Centre will be a venue that the borough can be proud of – attracting residents and those from outside the borough.
“It will transform the town’s cultural offer for generations to come.”
Gail Richards, Chair of Oldham Coliseum, said that they, together with the council and Arts Council England are ‘passionate about securing the future of theatre in Oldham’.
“We are excited to be working with our partners on further developments so that together we continue to provide access to a range of high-quality theatre, with learning and participatory activities for all, for the best possible value for money,” she said.
Alison Clark, Director North of Arts Council England, said: “I’m pleased to see Oldham Council continue to support culture as part of its regeneration plans and I recognise it was a difficult decision to postpone the theatre capital project.
“The Arts Council remains strongly committed to working with the council, Oldham Coliseum Theatre, the arts and heritage centre and other partners.”