A new deal to secure the long-term future of The Byre Theatre in St Andrews has been rubber-stamped by Fife councillors.
Financial problems meant the venue, which is owned by Fife Council, was temporarily forced to close back in 2013 with the loss of several jobs, although it was effectively saved when St Andrews University stepped in to take over the running of the theatre on a 25-year lease the following year.
Now the council and Scotland’s oldest university have agreed to extend the current lease by a further 15 years and give the university an option to buy the building outright for just £1 when the new lease expires in August 2054.
Fife Council will effectively take a £445,000 hit due to the loss of a future capital receipt, while it will also lose the £300,000 a year income the theatre brings in annually.
Nevertheless, councillors on the region’s assets and corporate services sub committee agreed that the proposed approach represents the best value option for the loal authority and for wider community benefit.
Councillor David Barratt, committee convener, said: “It’s clear that there’s a lot of work gone into this already – it is a very valued asset and hopefully will continue to be over the coming years.”
The Byre Theatre, located within the centre of St Andrews, was custom built in 2001 at a cost of £5.5m to provide a main 216-seat auditorium and a 100-seat studio theatre, bistro, bar and conference venue with associated offices, catering kitchen, dressing rooms and toilets.
As Paul Vaughan, head of communities and neighbourhoods, explained, however, provincial theatres and arts venues generally require to be subsidised – and the facility is currently operating with an annual loss in the order of £600,000.
“In the current climate there is considerable additional uncertainty,” he added.
“The council has no aspiration to operate the facility which reverted to the council following the liquidation of the former tenant.
“The university have been operating the theatre for over seven years and have fulfilled the requirements placed on them.
“Despite the high operational costs they are willing to continue to invest in the theatre but have concerns about the investment when the building isn’t owned by them.
“So should the proposed disposal be approved, they will continue to deliver a wide range of educational, community and cultural experiences.”
An amendment by Mr Barratt was also supported by committee members which sought to secure a continued commitment to community access once the lease expires, and to ensure Fife Council and St Andrews Community Council representation on the Byre Theatre Stakeholder Group.
By local democracy reporter Craig Smith