VIP visit boost for our theatre

PLANS to safeguard the future of Lowestoft's biggest theatre took a further step forward yesterday when a shadow minister expressed his support for the Marina.

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ivan Lewis, right, was in Lowestoft yesterday. While in town he was hoping to meet representatives from the Friends of the Marina group to discuss the future of the Waveney District Council-run theatre. However, the move was almost overshadowed by a political spat when concerns were voiced by the Waveney Labour group after the Tory-run council refused to allow Mr Lewis a tour of the building.

Pakefield's Labour councillor Peter Byatt has been a keen supporter of the theatre since fears were raised last year that it could be advertised as an 'entertainments/leisure venue' in the future.

He told The Journal: 'We asked for the shadow minister to be allowed to have a private tour, which was agreed initially as a positive for the theatre but that decision was rescinded at the end of last week.

'We are very disappointed that the decision was changed. We can't see why the officers would have made this decision and so we assume it is a political decision. This visit supports the efforts to save the theatre, so I find it bizarre that the shadow minister would be banned.'

At the time of going to press, Mr Lewis was hoping to meet supporters outside the theatre, but David Gallagher, head of partnerships at Waveney, hit back at claims Mr Lewis had been banned.

'The shadow minister has in no way been banned from the theatre; however we have stopped short of accepting a request for a formal visit while tendering for the theatre's future operation is ongoing.

Most Read

'It is our understanding that the minister wishes to meet with the Friends of the Marina Theatre; a group who have expressed an interest in its future management.

'However any such meeting, organised by the council, will generate publicity which could suggest that Waveney is favouring one of the bidding options.

'This could lead others to believe that the Friends have an unfair advantage. Therefore in the spirit of fairness and to ensure the legal and moral integrity of the procurement process we have advised the shadow minister that a formal visit at this precise time may not be appropriate.

'However, we have welcomed him to the council to discuss any issues on Thursday and would be very happy to organise another visit to the theatre once the procurement process has concluded.'

Before the meeting group members attacked the council's stance. Mr Byatt added: 'There was an insinuation that allowing the visit could prejudice against the management takeover of the theatre.

But it is important to note that they claim it 'inappropriate' when the then-shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was allowed by the council to visit last year.'