After months of secrecy, Bromley's Conservative Executive Committee has finally admitted that it is their intention to dispose of the site of the Churchill Theatre and next door Library so the site can be redeveloped. The Council will probably give the freehold of the site to the Trafalgar Theatre Group, who are the current leaseholders of the theatre. If they fail to reach agreement with Trafalgar they will put the site up for sale on the open market. Whoever redevelops the site it is understood there will continue to be a theatre on the site..
Negotiations with the Trafalgar Group: these are still ongoing, but the likelihood is that the Council will give the site to Trafalgar and additionally pay them a substantial sum (many millions) so that Trafalgar will waive the Council's liabilities for all the outstanding maintenance and repairs to the building. This was agreed by the Council’s Executive Committee meeting on 19th October and the papers presented to that meeting are now public – you can read them here.
Breaking the lease: The lease with Trafalgar Theatres runs until 2041 but to protect themselves in case no agreement is reached with Trafalgar the Council are executing a break clause in the lease so that the lease is terminated in April 2026. This means that the site will be empty by then (unless Trafalgar buy the freehold) so that the site can be marketed for development on the open market with a 999 year lease.
Petition and public support: Thank you to everyone who signed our petition to save the theatre. I know it's had an impact on the Conservatives even though they are pressing ahead with their plans, and the theatre themselves said it was heartwarming to see how much support there is for the theatre in Bromley and beyond. We have been variously accused of scaremongering and worse by the Conservatives who all the time were aware that sale and redevelopment of the site was exactly what they were planning. That this landmark building built only 50 years ago, that is so important to so many people in Bromley and beyond is now considered "beyond life" due to years of neglect by Conservative led- Bromley Council is disgraceful. Other buildings of a similar age such as the leisure centres are having millions invested in them to extend their lives, yet the Council are offloading the Theatre.
Lack of transparency: We are outraged at the way the whole issue has been pushed through a breakneck speed after a prolonged period of secrecy while negotiations with Trafalgar were carried out. And pushed through without any consultation with local residents or allowing the Councillors to speak openly about the proposed deal. Your Bromley Town councillors spoke at the two committee meetings that considered the matter (held within a day of each other). We reluctantly accepted that the theatre building was now beyond repair due to years of neglect, but urged a pause in the decision to give the full Council – and residents – time to discuss and consider the options. We asked that they negotiate a delay in the break clause – asking Trafalgar to accept a break clause say two years later in 2028 – but the Portfolio Holder (Cllr Bear) said the building would fall down if they delayed by a minute! We asked for guarantees that the site must be used as a theatre whoever owns and redevelops it, and some assurances were given about planning conditions being attached to the site but we're not confident of this. We also asked for assurances that the “reverse premium” paid to Trafalgar (if it does happen) must be returned to the Council if Trafalgar is not able to complete redevelopment of the site for any reason. And we have demanded scrutiny of the huge sums involved in this deal.
Going forward: We think the Council should keep the freehold to protect its cultural use forever and work with Trafalgar to redevelop the site. Sadly it seems that the decision is final, the freehold will be sold and either Trafalgar Theatres will redevelop the site or it will be sold to another developer. We are determined to make sure that the deal is properly scrutinised and that the site is protected to ensure that a new theatre is built there - hopefully one that will have a longer lifespan than just 50 years - and that the site can't just be sold on to another developer. And it may be that Trafalgar Theatres - who have a great reputation in the theatre world - deliver a wonderful cultural centre for Bromley. But we need to make sure the right safeguards are in place.
In the meantime please show your support for our wonderful theatre and the performers and staff; the theatre will stay open for another two years, lets buy lots of tickets to show Trafalgar Theatres that they have a loyal audience here.