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HAZLITT 'CLOSURE': Committee can overturn option to shut popular Maidstone venue

Monday 16th November 2020

CASH-strapped Maidstone Borough Council has acknowledged the decision to consider shutting the Hazlitt Theatre could be overturned at another committee in nine days' time.
A delegation of six elected members from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and independents challenged a move by the Economic Regeneration and Leisure (ERL) Committee last Thursday to mothball the popular theatre.
A press release issued this evening confirmed it has "now been ‘called in for scrutiny’ and will be referred to the Policy and Resources Committee (P&R) where it will be discussed further on Wednesday November 25". 
P&R has the power to reverse the decision.
MBC, hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, must find 15% savings before the next budget is passed in April 2021.
If MBC severed its ties with Parkwood, which runs the Hazlitt, it could save £284,000 a year. But the cost of keeping it closed would be £100,000 a with posible redundancy costs on top.
At last week's meeting the elected members were served "a cheerless menu" of options, according to an MBC insider.
The source said: "The elected members were told one option would be to shut the Hazlitt Theatre down and other was to close it. They didn't get a lot of choice. Several members made it plain they didn't want to lose the theatre."
Members are angry that the news was released in a brief four line statement at 4pm last Friday evening.
After a weekend of public fury, disbelief and social media comment on Daily Downs Mail's SAVE THE HAZLITT Facebook campaign site, ERL committee chairman Paul Harper released a statement followed by another by MBC itself.
MP Helen Grant, pictured onstage with the cast of The Producers at The Hazlitt, said: "The Hazlitt is at the beating heart of Maidstone. Its contribution to our local economy is substantial and will be needed more than ever as we seek to recover from the Coronavirus crisis next year. 
"But this is about more than money. The Hazlitt is central to the fabric of our town. Its productions, workshops and youth theatre clubs bring joy to so many people and it is a venue which is cherished by us all. It is crucial that Maidstone, as the county town of Kent, retains this important cultural asset."

While understanding the financial predicament MBC finds itself in, she added: "I am asking them to pause their decision to earmark the theatre for closure and to give us some time. 
"This would allow us to explore what other funding options might be available to support the venue."