Regent Theatre vote of confidence

IPSWICH Regent Theatre has received a massive vote of confidence in a survey about the town's leisure services, it was revealed today.More than 80 percent of replies said Ipswich should have a large-scale entertainment venue and almost 60 pc said the Regent was "essential" to Ipswich.

IPSWICH Regent Theatre has received a massive vote of confidence in a survey about the town's leisure services, it was revealed today.

More than 80 percent of replies said Ipswich should have a large-scale entertainment venue and almost 60 pc said the Regent was "essential" to Ipswich.

This figure increased to more than 65 pc when only questionnaires sent out randomly were included, excluding those filled in by people who had a particular point to make.

The New Wolsey Theatre was considered essential by a similar percentage, but only 45 pc of replies from the random sample considered the Corn Exchange to be vital to the town.

One proposal to get a firm rejection in the survey was to switch money away from major venues to support community arts and leisure projects.

The survey was undertaken after Ipswich council's previous Labour administration first mooted plans for a shake-up of arts provision in the area.

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That administration had put forward four options for the development of arts and entertainment facilities in the town.

One of the options considered by the report indicated that the Corn Exchange could be sold off while others suggested the Regent Theatre could be mothballed or funding for the New Wolsey Theatre could be cut back.

A report leaked to the Evening Star earlier this year suggested that the borough Labour group could sell the Corn Exchange to invest in the Regent.

The incoming Conservative administration pledged to retain the Corn Exchange, but this survey suggests that the Labour proposal could be more in tune with the public feeling.

Overall nine out of 10 of the 1,435 respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the council should work towards providing a wide range of arts and entertainment opportunities for all people who live or visit Ipswich.

Meanwhile more than 90% of people said they thought the council and its funding partners should maintain or improve the level of financial support for the arts, with only 4.8% saying they wanted a reduction.

Judy Terry, Conservative councillor responsible for cultural and leisure services, said the results of the consultation, which only closed a week ago, had proved "very illuminating".

She said the persistent neglect of the buildings and lack of maintenance over the years meant they needed not only restoration but also work to ensure they were compliant with health and safety while also offering disabled access.

Responding to people concerned that they would lose their venues, she said: "It is not our intention to close anything unless there is firm financial reason for doing it. We are trying to save these venues but it needs massive financial investment to save them."

While she said it would be an investment in the town and its culture she confirmed there would inevitably be implications on council tax.

And she pointed out that the council was committed to keeping council tax increases below inflation next year.

Labour's John Mowles, who was responsible for leisure until the middle of September, rejected claims that the previous administration had allowed the venues to deteriorate.

He said: "Of course we could have spent more, but there has been an ongoing programme of maintenance – last year we spent £250,000 on a new roof for the Regent.

"Over the last 25 years I don't remember once hearing us being attacked by the Conservatives for not spending more on maintaining our leisure facilities – or anything else for that matter."

What do you think is the top priority for the arts in Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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