Weymouth Pavilion

PEOPLE must wonder what is going to happen next as the saga of Weymouth Pavilion continues to produce more twists and turns than a ropemaker’s bowl of spaghetti bolognaise.

What has happened so far has all the elements of a tragedy and a farce rolled in to one gothic production garnished with heroic knights, evil villains and a fair sprinkling of village idiots.

The Pavilion was built in 1908 for £14,150 to meet heavy demand for entertainment because Weymouth was growing in popularity as a seaside resort.

Along came World War II, the Pavilion got requisitioned by the military and by the time they had finished with it – the last use was as a naval post sorting office – it took two years before the council could farm it out to the Buxton Theatre Circuit.

The Pavilion finally re-opened in 1950 with a new name, The Ritz Theatre, but it burnt down in 1954 and here’s where we start to see the first disastrous links between council thinking then and council thinking now.

The Fire Brigade felt they had saved enough of the building for it to be rebuilt, but the council decided to put forward a claim on the fire insurance policy, the site was cleared….and not a brick of the new Pavilion was built for the next four years.

Apparently this was because of extensive delays caused by litigation and wrangling, but plans were eventually drawn up for a new Pavilion at £154,000 only for the Royal Fine Arts Commission to demand changes which cost another £25,000.

Comedian Benny Hill starred in the show Let’s Make A Night Of It for the official opening in July 1960, but the years went by and the building fell victim to comedy of a different sort, this time of errors.

Instead of maintaining the building and pursuing a policy to ensure quality attractions would generate quality returns, the Pavilion was allowed to bumble along until grandiose turn of the century plans were announced to redevelop the site with a £135 million scheme in time for the Olympics.

There were plans for this hotel, that car park and marina and the other luxury apartment, oh were there plans for luxury apartments! The number of floors being proposed seemed to relate directly to angry residents’ blood pressure, the higher the apartment block being suggested the higher blood pressures got.

Howard Holdings went bust – remember that? – and the council was suddenly throwing its arms in the air and talking about no longer being able to support the loss making Pavilion.

The wheels of council operation had been oiled for some time by siphoning harbour cash off and spending it to plug holes elsewhere, a situation angrily highlighted by Councillor Peter Farrell.

But the holes came home to roost on the Pavilion’s doorstep with poorly maintained harbour walls cracking into a giant cavity to the sound of Condor upping its anchor and taking its ferry service to Poole until repairs are completed.

There were also growing cracks appearing in council willingness to support the Pavilion and we began to hear talk of closure and demolition which sparked a storm of protest at both the way the council had allowed the situation to develop and what it was trying to do about it.

Community groups rallied to the cause, the council stepped back from the brink of demolition and it was finally agreed that the best option was to hand the Pavilion over and let a community group try and run it.

There was consistent talk of the need to expedite this, to get whatever community group was chosen in and running the complex as soon as possible but the words of Councillor John Birtwistle appear to be coming back to haunt the authority.

He told a full council meeting in the Pavilion Ocean Room packed with more than 150 spectators that the Spanish had a word, “manana”, meaning not today, “but the council doesn’t have a word which conveys that sense of urgency”!

His words have proved prophetic because next Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s management committee will debate a proposed schedule not for welcoming a fresh start in June but for a handover which could keep a community group out of the Pavilion until at least October….and that’s if things go smoothly and the whole place isn’t vandalised into a ruin by then.

Maybe there are legal niceties to be observed, maybe the council does have to do things in a certain way to ensure it doesn’t lay itself open to action, but should doing all that really take so long?

Parts of this whole sorry scenario are likely to be buried away deep from the light of public scrutiny, but one thing is for sure. Next week’s council management committee will see furious community groups give the meeting a pretty rough ride.

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