FRESH fears have been raised over the finances behind the new theatre for Chester.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has already downsized the ambitious proposals to convert the Odeon building into a theatre, library and cultural centre.
But opposition councillors are not convinced the figures stack up for the £37.5m project and worry where the near £1m annual subsidy will come from.
Labour leader Justin Madders believes the finances need to be put under the microscope.He said: “The Labour group has support investment in a theatre and cultural centre for Chester and the wider borough, recognising the economic and community benefit that a vibrant cultural offer brings.
“Nonetheless, we have reservations concerning the sustainability of the project as things stand. Funding sources such as Arts Council grants and Heritage Lottery funding have still not been secured.
“There’s considerable uncertainty about the long-term running costs of the theatre as the business planning moves forward.”
Under the original £40.5m plan, CWaC would have spent £29.5m from its capital budget on the theatre with £5m coming from the Arts Council and £6m from philanthropists.
With the council willing to spend the same amount, the sum now needed from the Arts Council is between £2.5m and £4m and fundraising will have to total between £1.5m and £2.5m while CWaC also hopes to secure £3.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The venue will include a main theatre with up to 800 seats, a smaller studio theatre with 150 seats, library, cafes, bars and a 120-seat cinema.
Construction giant Kier and architects Bennetts Associates have been awarded the contracts to deliver the project. Work is due to begin in February 2015 and take 19 months to complete, meaning it should be open for autumn 2016.
But the decision to award the contracts without having the finances in place has been questioned.
Cllr Ben Powell, finance spokesman for Labour, said: “The contract has been awarded before all the cash is in place and the financial modelling complete. This Tory council needs to reassure the community that the financial decisions they are taking now won’t force cuts in other projects or more borrowing in the future.
“If things don’t go according to plan, it’s essential they tell us what the impact will be on our existing services, including our cultural offer across the borough.”
Labour has asked for assurances the council can afford the annual subsidy without removing funding from other arts groups and making cuts elsewhere.
Cllr Louise Gittins, culture spokesman for Labour, said: “There’s considerable nervousness across the borough that funding this project at the levels being talked about will lead to the funding for other organisations being stopped.
“The organisations across the borough who depend on the council’s funding need to know whether or not this will be the case so they know what the future will hold for them.”
Cllr Sam Dixon, who represents the city centre, has been a firm supporter of the project but stressed the importance of delivering the new theatre as quickly as possible.
She said: “It’s really important that this project offers people an affordable and entertaining night out in Chester.
“Despite the valiant efforts of organisations like Tip Top Productions, Chester Little Theatre and Chester Performs, Chester is still without large scale live performances in the city. We need something urgently to stop the drain away from the city centre right now.”