Arts groups to stay in Leeds Carriageworks Theatre after room hire price increase

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A lifeline has been handed to voluntary arts groups which felt under the threat of effectively being evicted from Leeds’s Carriageworks Theatre.

Leeds Community Arts Network, which represents 14 voluntary groups, believed price hikes would force them out of their long-established home.

But a Leeds City Council scrutiny meeting today heard how agreements have been made in four key areas, one of them meaning network members can afford to stay at the venue for the time being.

The council, which runs the site next to Millennium Square, had revealed plans to gradually increase the £5 hourly room hire rate Leeds CAN members pay from April 1, with fears that it would match the £25-£35 tag paid by other organisations by 2021/22.

The meeting, which was called after the network launched a media campaign to try and halt proposals, heard how the rate “should” be going up to around £10 in the next year – the maximum Leeds CAN members said they could afford.

Prices have not been fixed for the year after, the Scrutiny Board for Growth, Culture and Sport was told, though it is thought they will not increase by much.

Matthew Stirk, Leeds CAN chairman, and the council’s chief officer for culture, Cluny Macpherson, addressed councillors. Mr Stirk said groups now want to work with the authority after previously facing “non-negotiable” terms from the council.

He said: “Since the campaign we felt we were forced to do – the stance we were given was non-negotiable – we are really grateful to council officers for having really creative ideas and progressive talks. It’s been really positive.

“We have come to an agreement in principle that satisfies a lot of our issues.

“At the same time it gives us opportunity to work with the council officers to make [the venue] more viable so it fulfils its remit.”

However, he said that in the past “promises have been made” which were not fulfilled due to personnel changes.

Mr Stirk said CAN predicts paying £10,500 for rehearsal room hire at the venue this year, which would shoot up to around £20,000 with the doubled price next year. He has previously said the Carriageworks was built for community arts, and the remit was to use commercial activity to subsidise the community aspect.

“We know costs were going to go up, we were always pragmatic and knew £5 was unsustainable,” he said yesterday. “We wanted to get a fair community price.”

He added that Coun Judith Blake, the council’s leader, did not respond to the network’s concerns after it tried to contact her following “one meeting” with officers, during which groups were told of plans.

The authority’s chief officer for culture, Cluny Macpherson, told today’s meeting that the theatre’s operating costs are around £1m, £700,000 of which is earned back – meaning the authority subsidises activity at the site to the tune of around £300,000.

Council members were told that Leeds CAN accounts for about half the activity at the site.

Groups were also concerned about plans to end access to scenic workshop facilities and storage space, a potential reduction in the number of rooms available for rehearsals and meetings, as well as the venue having an earlier closing time of 8.30pm each day.

Mr Macpherson said: “I’m pleased to say that those issues have broadly now been resolved in one way or another.”

But he added that in terms of the venue’s community-focused remit, it is “feeling the pressure of the overall reduction in local authority budgets”.