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Theatre closure having huge impact on local businesses, council told

The closure of a theatre in Romiley is having a “huge” impact on local businesses which rely on the footfall from shows, campaigners have said.

The Forum Theatre shut its doors last September due to dangerous concrete – known as reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – in the building.

RAAC was first found in the roof in 2017 during a refurbishment, and was managed according to industry standards by Stockport council until the government updated its guidance in August 2023.

Since then shows have stopped taking place and members of Free the Forum  – a campaign group to reopen the theatre – said the closure is having a huge impact on residents and businesses in Romiley and beyond.

Cassie Briffa, founder of the campaign, said: “There’s 200 children who go in and out of there every week, or at least they did. There had not been any inspection of that RAAC since 2017 until the government changed the guidance and then they went in.

“So we’ve been going in there for the past six years with the risk of this crumbling around us.

“The building being closed has affected local businesses hugely, they’ve all had a downturn in trade, this impacts a lot of people but it’s a case to be answered for. We need to make the council accountable.”

The issue was raised at Stockport council’s Werneth Area Committee in January, where councillors and residents discussed the future of the theatre.

The site is operated by NK Theatre Arts, a company which was granted a lease from Stockport council in 2003 for 30 years.

Darren Stannage, company manager at NK Theatre Arts, told the Werneth Area Committee that residents in Romiley are “desperate” to see the Forum reopened.

He said: “While the theatre is closed we just can’t sustain the losses. We’ve lost £56,000 since September, and it’s very hard without any indication of how long the period of closure is going to be.

“But we do look forward to a thriving theatre again. We remain committed to working alongside the council and the Bredbury and Romiley Community Association on a long-term plan for the forum in whatever lease structure everyone thinks is appropriate.

“Since our arrival in Stockport back in 2003, NK and the Forum has had a really lifelong impact on the lives of so many people.

“We’ve welcomed hundreds of thousands of members of our community through our theatre doors – we provide a safe stimulating environment for children, young people and adults of all abilities and disabilities.”

Mr Stannage told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he would love the theatre to be open again as soon as possible, and that September could be a realistic date if works to tackle RAAC are able to begin soon.

Paul Athans, the Conservative candidate for Hazel Grove, raised concerns over whether the council is acting quickly enough.

He said: “The council claimed to have been working to find a solution on this, although they have known about the problems since 2017 and we’re still waiting.

“As the owners of the building, the buck stops with them, however at a recent meeting their Lib Dem councillors chose to blame the Government rather than take ownership of the issue themselves.

“They talked at length about how it was not their fault but failed to provide the leadership or action the community needs.”

Councillor Lisa Smart, the Lib Dem candidate for Hazel Grove, said: “As local councillors, we have been clear throughout that we need a thriving NK Theatre Arts running the Forum Theatre, which is at the heart of our local community.

“Anyone who had been involved in our community for more than five minutes would know that the problem at the Forum theatre was identified while the council was being run by a Conservative-backed Labour administration.

“We’re looking for the practical solutions that our community needs, not more pointless politicking. That’s why we’ve been working with the council and everyone who cares about the Forum to identify funding for the immediate repairs that the theatre needs, and we’ve called on the government to do their bit to deliver a long-term solution.”

Councillor Joe Barratt, Stockport Labour Group’s shadow cabinet member for communities, culture and sport, said: “I’m glad to see that, following questioning by Labour at the last full council meeting, there now appears to be progress made on getting the Forum Theatre in Romiley re-opened following its closure back in September.

“In stark contrast, there has been a worrying lack of urgency from the Liberal Democrats on this issue, with other theatres who have been similarly affected across the country back open at Christmas.

“We will continue to monitor this situation closely, and have regular dialogue with NK Theatre Arts, in order to ensure that this administration provides the necessary support required to get The Forum Theatre reopened as quickly as possible.”

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