Protests over new Assembly Rooms as plan pushes ahead

Protestors put pressure on Derby City Council at a meeting of its cabinet on Wednesday night (4 October 2017) over plans for the new music and performance venue proposed to replace the Assembly Rooms.

Thirty protestors from Derby Arts and Theatre Association (DATA) were outside the meeting and although the next phase of the project will go ahead the council has conceded more consultation will be done. DATA aired concerns that the current plans do not include a theatre space and were lacking ambition. Currently the council has put forward a plan to create a 3000 capacity performance venue and new multi-storey car park to replace the Assembly Rooms, which closed three years ago following a fire.

The new venue is set to cost £42million and on Wednesday the council granted £500,000 toward developing the plan and seeking an operator for the venue, which seems aimed at mainly music and comedy shows. Some consultation work has already been done, including with DerbyLIVE and Derby Theatre, but cabinet member for regeneration Martin Rawson said a wider group should have been included.

DATA believe the plan is currently wrong and should be for a concert hall and lyric-style theatre. Tension grows around the future of the Assembly Rooms, and a large entertainment venue in the city, with some feeling work has been delayed too long already after the fire while others want more careful consideration of what is viable and needed in Derby.

Derby Arena provides a large capacity venue at which bands including Catfish and The Bottlemen and the Happy Mondays have headlined, but recent council papers showed the financial position was less than ideal. Large touring shows – including Elton John and Boyzone – have also come to Derby this year with performances at Derbyshire County Cricket Ground. Mid-sized venues The Venue and the Hairy Dog continue to bring in touring acts of 400 to 500 capacity including sell out shows in 2017 from acts as diverse as Wolf Alice and Cock Sparrer.

Derby Theatre, the Guildhall, and space at Déda all offer performance space but DATA are among those who would like to see it increased with additional facilities at the new Assembly Rooms to compete with those in Nottingham and Leicester.

The Derby Hippodrome Rennovation Trust have also appealed to the council to consider renovation of the building rather than replacement while other individuals have muted the renovation of Friargate Goods Yard into a new entertainment venue.

The Hippodrome was partially demolished and further damaged by fire but the Trust continue to campaign for the Grade II listed building, which once hosted variety acts like Morcombe and Wise, to be saved. In a statement to the Derby Telegraph they said, “The Hippodrome Theatre can be rebuilt with an updated fly tower and extended stage with modern equipment plus three floors above the auditorium ceiling all for £30 million. That would be a total of £55 million at today’s prices compared to the £70 million that the council’s plans for the new performance venue and car park will be when it’s finally built in six years’ time.”

While the council intend to look for an experience operator for the new venue in this phase of the project the current offer in the city and the appetite from audiences and booking agents on a longer term basis seem to be the less talked about aspect of the Assembly Rooms future.

What are your views? What should be done with the Assembly Rooms and the Hippodrome Theatre? Does Derby need another large music venue or theatre? Leave a comment below, on Facebook or on twitter.

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