County council 'fully committed' to Berwick Maltings scheme after funding concerns raised

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The leader of Northumberland County Council has stressed its commitment to a new Maltings theatre venue for Berwick.

Coun Glen Sanderson has spoken after concerns about funding for the project and delays that have been suffered were raised by a local organisation, the town’s Mayor and one of Berwick’s county councillors.

The local authority has confirmed that more than £23million in budget has been allocated to the scheme, but the delays mean the new venue is now currently scheduled to open in 2027 rather than 2026 as stated last summer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The issue has arisen following an email exchange between the council and Berwick-upon-Tweed Civic Society about various matters, including The Maltings project.

The current Maltings on Eastern Lane in Berwick.The current Maltings on Eastern Lane in Berwick.
The current Maltings on Eastern Lane in Berwick.

In a statement to the Gazette, the civic society explained that the factors for members’ concerns in its email included delays for the linked phase of providing an upgraded Gymnasium Gallery, creative studios and a temporary cinema, which will later become a new home for the Berwick Archives, and the need for unexpectedly extensive archaeological investigations on the site of the main redevelopment leading to serious delays.

In addition, it says there are significant cost increases from when the project was planned and costed in 2018 – including inflation, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the archaeological investigations.

Concluding the statement, the society’s planning and development committee chairman Brian Gowthorpe said: “The Civic Society understands that all realistic cost savings have been taken. Further cuts would result in a much more limited (but long overdue) refurbishment that would not deliver what was promised in the funding bid.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“There must be a risk that Berwick could lose this crucial Government investment altogether.

“The leader of the council has rightly celebrated this vital project win and its importance for Berwick. He should reinforce the council’s efforts to persuade the Government to increase the funding. If this is not achievable, the council should fully provide for the eventual project shortfall when it is needed later in the project.

“The Maltings has seen many tragedies on its main stage since it was created nearly 35 years ago. It must avoid having one of its own.”

Coun Sanderson’s statement said: “We remain fully committed to this new multi-million pound investment, which will bring extra visitors and spending to the town and deliver a significant boost to the local economy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The project, which has already seen significant design and preparatory work, includes significant improvement works to the main theatre building at Eastern Lane as well as the Mob Store at Berwick Barracks, where construction of a temporary cinema is almost complete.

“The Maltings work is the latest in a number of major investments in the town over recent years – from a new £23million leisure centre, a £4.2million project to create a thriving cultural hub at Berwick Barracks and a new Culture and Creative Zone, further raising Berwick’s profile as a centre for creative activity in the North East.

“We’re doing everything we can to support and invest in Berwick and both the county council and the Maltings continue to work on options to deliver a transformational building that will provide real benefits to the town.”

If it is built, the new Maltings would provide a new auditorium with more seats and a larger stage – giving new opportunities to secure larger touring productions and higher profile live performances across theatre, music, comedy, and dance – two dedicated cinema spaces that would enable live events and cinema screenings to run simultaneously, and other features.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

After learning of the civic society’s concerns, Mayor of Berwick John Robertson wrote to Coun Sanderson about the project and both he and Berwick East county councillor Georgina Hill issued statements.

Coun Robertson said in his statement: “The Maltings project is central to the regeneration of the town centre and the wider area. We have to know what’s going on.

“If more pressure is needed to find the funds from the government to deliver on this promise, then we need to know so we can add our voice to the demand for the money to finish the job.”

Coun Hill said: “It is my opinion that we are, indeed, in serious danger of wasting this incredible opportunity presented by the Borderlands funding for the new Maltings.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The county council’s administration needs to commit and/or source additional funding as a matter of urgency and, preferably, stand down Advance Northumberland as project managers to get things moving.”

Scott Sherrard, chair of trustees, Maltings (Berwick) Trust, said: “The trust has been working closely with Northumberland County Council since 2019 on the redevelopment of our Eastern Lane site in the centre of Berwick.

“We welcome Coun Sanderson’s statement of January 25 in support of “a major transformation and expansion of the current venue” in order to “bring extra visitors and spending to the town and deliver a significant boost to the local economy”, and we look forward to seeing significant progress on delivering these shared goals through 2024.”