Richmond Council to make final payment in "worst deal ever", worth £10m (From Richmond and Twickenham Times)
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Richmond Council to make final payment in "worst deal ever", worth £10m
Richmond Council will make a final payment of £859,425 to Richmond Theatre Trust at the end of March, having been locked into a disastrous £10m lease agreement with the town’s historic theatre since 1991.
The theatre’s former director, Sally Greene, persuaded the authority to act as guarantor on a loan to restore the theatre, after a series of meetings closed to the press and public.
The theatre failed to meet its fundraising target and ran into problems, leaving the taxpayer to foot the £10,180,915 bill.
Mrs Greene, who works at the Sunday Times and saved the Old Vic, described how she pulled off the best deal of her life and one she never thought the council would go for, in an interview with British Airways Business Life magazine.
She said: “Looking back I think, ‘How did we manage that?’ I realise now that it was the best deal of my life.”
Mrs Greene and her husband, property developer Robert Bourne, bought the rundown theatre for £90,000 in 1986.
In an amazing coup she persuaded the Liberal Democrat council to guarantee the loan repayments for its restoration, an agreement the Conservatives strongly opposed.
The council pledged another £150,000 to the theatre to secure its takeover by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) in 1999 and continued to make annual payments as part of that deal.
Opposition councillors called on former council leader Councillor Sir David Williams to resign after a district auditor criticised the council for not safeguarding the inflation-tied loan in 2000.
Coun Williams said with the benefit of hindsight the agreement could have been dealt with better, but the council was forced to save the theatre, which he described as a highly valuable institution.
He said: “The council had to take on the responsibility for the loan otherwise the theatre would have closed.”
Councillor Pamela Fleming said the building was one of the finest examples of architect Frank Matcham’s work and was delighted the theatre was now thriving.
She said: “£10m is a huge amount of our residents’ money to commit without any specific additional benefit for the community and is another example of the failure of Lib Dems to manage public finances for residents’ benefit.”
The council has three members sitting on the theatre trust’s seven-person board, but this will likely reduce to one when the arrangement ends.
The council’s cabinet was due to note the report last night.