Fringe Box



Final Council Decision on Theatre Company’s Bid for Burchatts Farm Barn Still Awaited

Published on: 23 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 23 Dec, 2018

Burchatts Barn – Photo Mandy Millyard

A borough council decision, still to be confirmed, to reject Guildford Shakespeare Company’s bid to rent buildings at the council-owned Burchatts Farm, is being criticised by supporters of the theatre company.

The Grade II listed barn, which for many years was available for community use, is instead set to be let by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) to a chiropractor.

Initially, the decision was taken under delegated powers by the lead councillor for finance and asset management Nigel Manning (Con, Ash Vale) who chairs GBC’s Property Review Group but it is understood that following representations he referred the matter to the GBC Executive.

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the Executive Committee has yet reached a confirmatory decision.

Expressions of interest from those wishing to rent the premises were invited in March 2017. The Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) bid, according to its website, was for £36,000, inclusive of VAT, which is understood to be as much as £11,000 less per annum, in terms of GBC revenue, than that from the bid provisionally selected.

Gordon Bridger.

But a former mayor of Guildford, Gordon Bridger, thinks it should not be just about the rental value. He says: “The GSC is a homegrown success story. As well as providing enjoyment and high-class entertainment to numerous local audiences, it has brought the name of Guildford into the national limelight.

“GSC’s current cramped quarters are unsuitable, so they put in a bid for Burchatts which would provide all the space needed to expand, and which would allow for community use as well.

“I realise that GSC’s bid might be some thousands of pounds less than those from commercial entities but surely there is a considerable cultural and amenity value that should be factored into the decision.

The interior of a Spiegeltent – Photo Wikipedia

“I understand that their bid included a proposal to erect a ‘Spiegeltent’ which would make an attractive theatre with booths for eating and drinking. It is something they have used very successfully on two occasions and would be available to others to hire. GSC’s community-mindedness is proved by their running of courses for schools and deprived children. It is difficult to think of a more deserving occupant.

“I know the council have financial challenges including a projected revenue gap of £9 million by 2023 but the annual underspend is usually between £1 million and £2 million, so there is always space for some flexibility and discretion.  I hope it is not too late to reconsider.”

Cllr Nigel Manning

Cllr Nigel Manning, the lead councillor for finance and asset management declined to confirm the financial figures of the respective bids but said that all aspects of the bid had been considered.

He told The Dragon NEWS: “We do not comment on confidential commercial agreement details or letting decisions before they are published.

“However, we can confirm that we are in negotiations regarding the lease on Burchatts Farm Barn and have a duty to ensure that the council gets best value for any asset. We thoroughly evaluate each bid and look at all aspects of a potential lease agreement, not just the rental offered.

“In more general terms and in relation to Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC), the council recognises and values the contribution from our business community and organisations like GSC in making our borough a great place to live, work and visit.

“We have provided both practical and financial support to help GSC, so they can make the most of any opportunities and flourish. We will continue to support local groups like GSC, whilst balancing community needs with the increasing financial pressures.”

Julian Lyon

Today the prospective Independent borough council candidate Julian Lyon joined the debate, criticising the GBC leader, Paul Spooner for things said on Twitter. In a letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, Mr Lyon said: “I have noted from the Twitosphere that Cllr Spooner believes I misrepresented the council’s position on the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s offer for Burchetts Farm Barn.

“Let me be clearer. I do not purport to represent GSC, but I do long for them to find a permanent home from which to run their excellent operation, and the council has it within its gift to help them, not by giving them a home, but by working with them to make it mutually beneficial, bearing in mind GSC will shortly be turned out of their temporary GBC-owned home at Middleton Industrial Estate for redevelopment.”

The twitter exchange showing within Cllr Spooner’s account is as follows:

Meanwhile, an appeal on Guildford Shakespeare Company’s website for ideas about suitable new premises continues. The following can be found on its website:Matt Pinches, a co-founder and producer of GSC, declined to comment.

See also: Council to ‘Market Test’ Future Use of Burchatts Farm Barn and Letter: The Daylight of Transparency Would Do Wonders for Guildford


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Responses to Final Council Decision on Theatre Company’s Bid for Burchatts Farm Barn Still Awaited

  1. Tony O'Toole Reply

    December 24, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Why can’t the empty community centre on Queen Elizabeth park be considered, or the empty, old Budgen’s site.

  2. Adam Aaronson Reply

    February 13, 2019 at 2:01 pm

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