Agenda item

COVID Implications on the South Holland Centre Operations

To set out the current position and potential options for consideration for the South Holland Centre (Report of the Leader of the Council and Executive Director – Commercialisation (S151 Officer) enclosed).

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Leader of the Council and Executive Director – Commercialisation (S151 Officer) to set out the current position and potential options for the South Holland Centre. 

 

Officers had made a bid for Government funding the purpose of which was to maintain the viability of arts, culture and heritage industries and could be used either (i) to fully or partially reopen such facilities; or (ii) to ensure that such facilities were in a position to reopen at a future date.

 

The Council’s bid was for the latter purpose and a sum of £170,860 had been awarded – which the Council was now asked accept.

 

Councillor Newton and other opposition group members raised concerns about the assumptions that appeared to have been made in submitting an application for future reopening rather than immediate reopening or partial reopening. One example was the assumption of a lack of customer confidence – and cited the number of other reopened cinemas. Similarly, pro-active opportunities appeared to have been missed – such as utilising the Function Hall for catering at a time when the Beales and Hills cafés were closing.

 

Concern was also raised that officers were estimating a period of eight weeks to get the Centre ready for reopening.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Communities and Facilities responded that officers and members had a ‘can do’ attitude but reminded members that the Council also had an overarching duty to keep people safe, especially during the Covid emergency, and that it should not encourage mass gatherings. The Portfolio Holder also reported that, during closure, the Council had undertaken a thorough survey to identify necessary repairs.

 

Councillor Alcock opined that, as the grant application had been made on the basis of future rather than immediate reopening, debating the options now was somewhat academic. He considered that there would have been merit in re-opening for wider social and cultural need in district, especially with Covid affecting mental health. He felt that the building did lend itself to being used in responsible way.  Consideration could have been given to things like tea dances or cinema use for a reduced audience, with appropriate safety measures implemented. Older films could be shown for so long as new films were not being released.

 

The Portfolio Holder agreed that cultural/social needs and mental wellbeing were very important, but this had to be balanced against health risks as well as the level of uncertainty in forecasting potential income in such challenging circumstances. 

 

The Communities Manager reiterated that the bid was to support the Centre to be open, sustainably, when viable and cost effective.  There was a great deal of uncertainty in the cinema industry, with films delayed and others going straight to streaming with audiences watching from home. When cinemas were able to reopen on 4 July only 80 opened out of 840 nationally.  In terms of the best option to protect the Centre and its services for the future, the application to arts council had focussed on ensuring the Council was able to open at a later date when confidence had improved. 

 

Safeguarding older residents who are currently shielding was a key priority, and nationally it appeared that many people were not confident in leaving their homes.  As a result, some cinemas that had opened were now closing again.  Live shows in particular needed to have a significant size of audience to be economically viable.  Function Hall and catering events also needed a lot of people to make them financially viable. In addition, when applying for arts council funding, all budgets, costs, predictive income and anticipated shortfall figures were required.  If the Council didn’t then meet its projected income during that period, a bigger shortfall would have resulted than if the Centre had been closed.

 

Councillor Newton reported that she had read the bid and that Arts Council money was available to enable such facilities to open and stay open. She was also concerned that, when April arrives, the Council would still not be ready to reopen. Councillor Walsh opined that it came down to attitude to risk, and that private enterprise would be concerned to maximise assets and increase both footfall and income.

 

The Communities Manager reminded Council that Arts Council funding had been made available either to reopen (fully or partially) now or to enable future reopening. The Portfolio Holder added that, as set out in paragraph 1.4 of the report, many private cinemas had not reopened immediately.

 

Councillor Astill considered that it was unfortunate that the Centre was closed, particularly given footfall in town centre. He didn’t, however, believe confidence in attending cinemas had returned.  After the previous lockdown had been lifted he had visited the cinema in Peterborough and it had been all but empty.  He agreed with the Communities Manager that people were choosing to watch streaming services because they felt safer at home. It was, however, important that the Centre be ready to reopen and this funding was necessary for that purpose.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services agreed that the Council needed to be proactive in preparing to reopen when it was safe for the right number of people to attend. It was not wise to encourage people to gather in groups and the Council’s approach to this pandemic was why South Holland had such a low infection rate. He criticised certain members who appeared to be so encouraging and who should, he felt, be setting an example when they themselves should be shielding but were not doing so. The member concerned responded that she had been working to support her community during Covid.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services supported the report to ensure that the Centre would be ready to reopen at the right time. He did not believe that people were pushing for early reopening. The Portfolio Holder for Assets and Planning agreed; he and his family and friends were regular users of the Centre but they were not confident to return yet – that may not be until a vaccine is released.

 

Councillor Tennant felt that a more robust and detailed report would have assisted the Council in considering the matter. He also felt that there should have been engagement with members prior to submitting the grant application.

 

The Portfolio Holder for Commercialisation and Growth had, as part of his portfolio, responsibility for the town centre.  He was very concerned about the impact on the town centre but he agreed indoor gatherings were unsafe. The safe and sensible thing to do was to be ready for future reopening.

 

The Leader of the Council felt that the Centre was a drain on the Council’s resources at the best of times. That was now compounded by the fact that the Centre was unable to generate income due to the pandemic. The Government had offered a lifeline and it was up to members to decide whether they wanted to accept it. A great many people would not have the confidence to visit an arts venue when that action put their lives at risk.  The Leader was also aware that a great many commercial venues had either closed to the public, or the public had insufficient confidence to attend, from concerts to football matches.

 

Councillor Brewis supported the point made by the Leader of the Council and he did not consider it appropriate to encourage people to congregate, particularly given the Government’s announcement around relaxing restrictions over the Christmas period.

 

Councillor Seymour also agreed with the Leader’s comments, and expressed his own concerns about visiting indoor spaces – even visiting hospital.

 

DECISION:

 

1.         That (in accordance with Financial Procedure Rule 3.8(h)) the £170,860 awarded by Arts Council England as part of the DCMS Culture Recovery Fund for the South Holland Centre be received and spent in accordance with the bid.

2.         That Full Council recommend to the Leader to approve the extended closure of the South Holland Centre for the remainder of the current financial year.