THE DUMFRIES DEBACLE
They are dropping like flies.
First Snøhetta and Spence's Turner Contemporary in Margate, now RMJM's £7 million new Dumfries Theatre Royal. Both highprofile, cultural schemes trumpeted as indispensable catalysts for local regeneration.
The decision by Dumfries and Galloway Council to withdraw its £2.5 million grant for the project came out of the blue. As a result, the promised lottery funding and European backing were also pulled.
The move has devastated the Guild of Players, a group of volunteers which has spent the last decade working on a number of schemes to revitalise the historic theatre and create a visible focal point for the renaissance of the town.
Since buying the 18thcentury building back in 1959, the Guild has diligently carried out repairs to the B-listed structure. However, during the last 10 years, the group has turned its attention towards giving the Theatre Royal a whole new lease of life, and has worked with RMJM on a range of ideas to redevelop the site.
Among these proposals was a plan to retain part of the facade and build a new auditorium behind it.
This scheme was rejected last year due to overshadowing and overdevelopment issues. But the council maintained its cash pledge and a new design, which took in an extra house at the rear and involved demolition of the existing theatre, was drawn up and resubmitted.
This proposal came in at around £1.3 million more than the original scheme because of land purchase and rising steel prices. The Guild asked the council if it could help towards this shortfall.
'That's when the unthinkable happened, ' says Carol Godridge, a spokesperson for the guild. 'Not only did the council say it was unwilling to give any more money, but it also said that it was withdrawing its budget.
'They used the excuse that the costs were escalating to get themselves out of a mess.' For those who followed the Turner Contemporary debacle, it will all sound very familiar.
But that's not the end of the story. In an ironic and galling twist, the controversial new scheme was then given the green light by planners.
The Scottish Arts Council also admitted to the campaigners that there was a strategic gap for the theatre in the area.
Godridge adds: 'Until the grant was pulled, the scheme was seen as the flagship of the Dumfries regeneration. Within 24 hours, it was airbrushed out.' The group has spent at least £250,000 on the design process, not including the payment of two separate £7,000 fees to local planners.
'It is utterly frustrating, ' agreed RMJM architect Neil McLean, 'that after four years of hard work and successfully gaining planning permission, funding has been retracted by the local council.' There is, of course, the usual call for a petition demanding the council changes its mind.
It will probably fail. And with authorities across Scotland tightening their belts, don't be surprised if more 'landmark' cultural schemes bite the dust over the coming months.