Agenda item

Motion submitted by Councillor J Kent


The Motion, as printed in the Agenda was proposed by Councillor J Kent and seconded by Councillor Pothecary. The Motion read as follows:


Council notes the Thameside Complex was, formally, opened on 22nd of January 1972 with the first performance in the theatre taking place in October 1971. Council agrees: (1) that a celebratory event should be held, at the Thameside, in January 2022 to mark the Golden Anniversary of the complex and (2) to call on Cabinet to identify the resources necessary to refurbish the theatre and ensure the future of the complex.


Councillor J Kent presented this motion by stating the Thameside Complex comprised of a theatre, library and museum that had been completed in 1971 and on the 18 October of that year saw the first play performed. In 1972 the Thameside Complex had been officially opened by Lord Goodman, the chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. There had been two phases of building the complex with the rear tower being built first and then the foyer, theatre and museum. It had been built that way so the library could be relocated into the new building without any break in service. That arts, culture and heritage played a vital part in bringing people together, enrich the communities and bring new experiences and ideas and making a massive contribution to the economy both locally and nationally. That for the past 50 years Thameside had provided a wonderful little theatre which had welcomed over two million visitors. Dance schools had performed dance and drama performances. The museum gallery displays some 1500 items, plus there were two floors of artefacts that could not be displayed. The central library continued to be well used, computers that youngsters could use in a quiet area to study and playing host to a range of community and group activities. This was all well worth celebrating and wished residents could go forward with confidence for the next 50 years but with Cabinet proposing to close the Thameside Complex in order to save the £600k that it claimed it cost to run the building each year. That closing the Thameside without a new building in place was unacceptable to Councillor J Kent and to the Labour Group. That the library with its purpose built children’s library deserved to be housed in a building designed for that purpose. That no firm proposal had been received on the relocation of the museum and how those 1000s of artefacts were not on display would be catalogued and secured stored. That the Thameside Theatre was a professional theatre and there was nowhere else in Thurrock could offer the same facilities and no professional events could be attracted to Thurrock, give local groups the opportunity to perform in a proper theatre or give Thurrock residents the opportunity to visit a theatre without leaving the borough. That the Thameside Theatre created the heart of Thurrock on arts, culture and heritage of the borough which would not be lost without a fight. Councillor J Kent stated now was the time to delivery and come up with the resources needed to keep the Thameside Complex open and thriving into the future.


An amendment to this motion had been received from Councillor Snell and seconded by Councillor Carter and read as follows:


Council notes the Thameside Complex was formally opened on 22nd of January 1972 with the first performance in the theatre taking place in October 1971. Council agrees: (1) that a celebratory event should be held, at the Thameside, in January 2022 to mark the Golden Anniversary of the complex and (2) to call on Cabinet to identify the resources necessary to improve and secure the future of the theatre service and all the services at the complex.


Councillor Snell presented the amended motion by stating he echoed a lot of what Councillor J Kent had said that Thameside Complex had been a terrific facility for Thurrock over the years and it would be appropriate to have some form of celebration on the services that it had provided over those years. That moving into the future it would be more about securing the services not the building. It was time to create better facilities and better scenarios where residents got to have a better use of what Thurrock could offer and this could no longer be served by being in the Thameside theatre. That it was time to concentrate on the services used the theatre, when raising or securing funds for the future lets concentrate on the people and the services that used the complex and not the run-down building.


Councillor Carter stated that modern services required modern delivery and agreed the good and bad history of the complex should be celebrated and the building was past its prime and should be looked at as such.


Councillor Muldowney stated she would be voting against the amended motion and in favour of Councillor Kent’s motion. Had been puzzled by the claim made by the portfolio holder that theatre services could be improved by closing the theatre, whilst providing a theatre offer at an unspecified location. Questioned how a theatre offer without a building could be provided or improved and how could current services housed in Thameside be improved by moving them into inadequate venues. The Thameside complex was a social and arts hub and where the community could meet and use the café, library and theatre which would help with boosting the night time economy. Only at Thameside would young people be given the opportunity to perform on a real professional stage and closing the theatre would rob them of this opportunity. Councillor Muldowney urged members to vote for the original motion submitted by Councillor J Kent.


Councillor Worrall stated Thurrock had an outstanding history of celebrating achievements and milestones and the Thameside Complex had been part of that history. Councillor Worrall’s stated her love for the theatre and the number of shows she had attended at Thameside and wanted this to continue, not necessarily at Thameside Complex but for another theatre to be built. Councillor Worrall wanted to continue to attend theatre shows in Thurrock and not outside the borough and urged members to support Councillor J Kent original motion.


Councillor C Kent stated the Thameside Complex was the heart of Grays for residents to visit and use all the services, where youngsters were learning how to put on a show with acting, scenery, sound and lighting to which these things could not be done in a village hall. Councillor C Kent stated the services needed to continue at Thameside and the Council had to think outside the box to ensure it remained open for the future and for the future generation of Thurrock’s children.


Councillor Huelin stated a new modern viable service was required when compared to other local Theatres and Thurrock community deserved better facilities. That celebrations should be around the arts, culture and people who had been involved in the last 50 years and not the building. Those 50 years of hard work, dedication of performers, artists, volunteers of those who had spread joy and laughter. The Administration recognised there should be a theatre service and the Thurrock community deserved better so by agreeing to Councillor Snell’s amendment to part two of the motion. A more improved sustainable registrar had been built and a future for the library had been secured and would continue to work to improve the arts, culture and heritage offer.


Councillor Kerin focused on the library and how this could be accessed by everyone regardless of income. That this was the heart of the library service and provided an opportunity for the next generation to learn and grow and by reducing this service to a few shelfs in another building would be cultural vandalism and should be housed in a building worthy of its status. The library, museum and theatre must be saved. It was not just about the service, buildings for theatres were also important and should be purpose built and to respect culture and save Thameside.


Councillor Spillman stated that Labour were not presenting new ideas and when he had spoken about arts with stakeholders they had all agreed the current offering in Thameside was not good enough and was not structured to deliver. What was required was a redesign of the offering in the existing building or a new building and the people to run that building would be the arts themselves and for them to provide business plans and to see an offering that could deliver funds, generate money and be self-sufficient.


Councillor Byrne stated that Councillor Snell’s statement demonstrated they were from someone who had no love or interest of the arts and had no understanding.


Councillor Piccolo compared performance at Thameside Theatre and from 2005 to 2008 there had been 172 performances, between 2009 to 2019 there had only been 45 performances over that 10 year period. Last year there had been three theatrical performances. This had demonstrated that it was not being used as a theatre and would be better somewhere else where we could attract better crowds and bigger performances.


Councillor Redsell agreed there was passion amongst members to have a Thameside Theatre but members were not looking forward, always looking backwards, that something more positive was required, a new theatre was required so that shows and performers would continue to come to Thurrock.


Councillor Duffin shared his love for musicals but was having to travel outside of Thurrock to watch these top London performances as Thurrock did not offer the facilities available for them to perform. Thurrock needed to have a theatre that would attract top talent and performances. That there was the capability and drive to do this so encouraged business plans to be presented and get an organisation, not the Council, to run this.


Councillor Maney stated his support for Councillor Snell’s amendment as he had hoped when Councillor J Kent had moved his motion there would a forward plan, a radical plan, business case or plans to find the money to repair a building that was not suitable. That Cabinet were open to all options but needed something to work with and this just had not been forthcoming from opposition members.


Councillor Coxshall stated a good theatre operation was required, that worked and would be open to all ideas on what that asset could be used for. Also open to where could we put something better for the community and where those great acts could perform. Councillor Coxshall wanted to see a community business plan and Cabinet would not make a decision until everyone had been spoken to.


Councillor Little stated the Thameside Complex was a third rate building and this was not acceptable and to concentrate on the community, the library and the theatre and agreed it should the community that led on this and to look for a first class building to accommodate the services. To celebrate on what work the arts and culture had done and not celebrate the building.


Councillor Abbas questioned what the plans were for the new theatre and Thameside was not just a building it offered educational, artist and cultural facilities which needed to be saved and protected.


Councillor Fletcher agreed the passion in the room was shared for supporting the arts to have a bigger, better facility that Thurrock could be proud of. Councillor Fletcher questioned why the amendment had not been amended to call on Cabinet to identify the resources necessary to approve and secure a new theatre and library complex.


Councillor Chukwu stated his support for Councillor J Kent’s motion and stated if the Thameside Complex were to be shut we should be thinking of a new building the community could use.


Councillor Polley recognised the passion in the room this evening and the need to attract new acts and performers to Thurrock but not forgetting that Thurrock had home-grown talent that also needed to be supported. That High House Production facility trained people in theatre skills but then had nowhere in Thurrock to practice those skills. That successful community projects that Councillor Polley had seen had been led by the community and would be supporting Councillor Snell’s amendment as it was the passion and services that Thurrock did not want to lose.


Councillor Gledhill stated himself and Councillor Snell had sat on the committee that had looked at the provision at Thameside and the words that Thameside was a failing building and not fit for purpose had been part of that report. Stated to Councillor Fletcher the constitution was clear the amendment could not alter the motion substantially.


Councillor Ralph referred to the great museum facility and referred to the two floors of artefacts hidden away that were of historic importance. That the amendment referred to services that the building had, and to move to somewhere that had a better museum, better library and better art facilities which was very positive.   


At 8.23pm, Councillor J Kent called point of order in relation to Chapter 2, Part 2, Paragraphs 17, 18 and 19, Alteration of Motion of the Council Procedure and Rules and stated if the constitution had allowed, the amendment would have gone further to suggest a new theatre should be built. If this was what Councillor Gledhill was saying he would be happy to alter his motion in accordance with the constitution. Councillor Gledhill stated that the amendment had been put forward in line with the constitution.


Councillor Pothecary stated the she had be unaware a new arts complex was being proposed, this was great news and looked forward to seeing the plans. To make sure the Thameside Complex remained open, remained functional and remained with all the services until the day a new complex was opened to which the residents of Thurrock deserved nothing less. Referred to Councillor Polley’s passion on High House Production but this was not a theatre that could host those types of shows and experiences that members were referring to. For the community to run the theatre was a brilliant idea and would support but they needed a theatre to run, they needed a building. Agreed with Councillor Huelin that Thurrock should have a modern theatre but this was not what was being discussed, this was a budget saving proposal being driven by finances that would not deliver for Thurrock. There was a lack of understanding in regards to the museum artefacts and what it took to preserve, display and store them. That Thurrock deserved a good central library, a children’s library and a specialist children’s library and deserved more than eight shelves and two computers. The motion was to make sure that future generations were not robbed of performing on a professional stage, to study, to learn and to discover and this would be for future generations. Councillor Pothecary concluded by urging all members to vote for the original motion.


Councillor Snell summed up by requesting the move to the vote.


Councillor J Kent summed up by stating he had enjoyed the debate and two issues from the debate had fallen into two categories – one the current theatre was smaller and older than we would like, it was run down and would like a new theatre. That Councillor J Kent was not alone in saying the Thameside Complex should remain open until a new theatre was in place. That Councillor Snell and Huelin referred to having a theatre service would mean not having a theatre but taking shows and plays on the road. That you could not have a theatre service without a service. For Councillor J Kent it was holding on to what you had, and although the Thameside may not be perfect prior to the Covid pandemic it was functioning fine as a theatre and again reiterated the theatre cannot close without a replacement being in place. Referred to Councillor Maney stating that £16 million was an eye-watering amount of money and agreed it was, it equated to one year’s debt interest payment that the Council were paying on its accumulated debt. At Corporate Overview and Scrutiny committee last week, a report on the £16 million was presented but the numbers had not added up, this also included £2.5 million of contingence and project management. That the £16 million had been a wish list, there were things that needed to be done and some that needed to be done quickly. This was a 10 year programme with much could be done much less than what was being suggested. 


Councillor J Kent requested a requisition vote and urged members to vote for the original motion. A vote was taken on the amended motion and the results were:


For: Councillors Akinbohun, Anderson, Baker, Carter, Coxshall, Duffin, Gledhill, Halden, Hebb, Huelin, Jefferies, Johnson, Kelly, Little, Maney, Mayes, Ononaji, Pearce, Piccolo, Polley, Ralph, Redsell, Rigby, Snell, Spillman, Thandi and Van Day (27)


Against: Councillors Abbas, Byrne, Chukwu, Fish, Fletcher, C Kent, J Kent, Kerin, Liddiard, Massey, Muldowney, Okunade, Pothecary, Raper, Shinnick, Smith, Watson and Worrall (18)


To which the Mayor announced the amended motion be carried.

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