Repairs to the Congress Theatre – at a cost of £850,000 – were agreed by the council’s cabinet members on Wednesday night as part of a masterplan to create a new cultural and conference centre in the Devonshire Park area.
Cabinet members agreed that a budget of £850,000 will be set aside for the initial phase, which will see the upper levels of the Grade II Listed Congress Theatre re-designed and windows and frames replaced.
Councillors said the improvements would address the original design flaws that led to the underlying corrosion through the installation of new weather-resistant units and solar efficient glazing. The theatre will remain open while the work, that is due to start by the end of 2013, is carried out.
Cllr David Tutt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said, “It is hugely exciting that we can now begin returning the Congress Theatre to her former glory and, as part of our wider plans, realise our ambitions for the Devonshire Park complex as a whole.”
The proposals for the ground floor are linked to an intensive restoration of the whole theatre, alongside a new public realm and Welcome Centre, which will all be part of the subsequent phases of the project.
The masterplan also includes the intensive restoration of the Winter Garden and improvements to the Devonshire Park Theatre and International Lawn Tennis Centre; introduction of full disabled access; new box office, bars, cafes and retail areas; new conference exhibition spaces and improved facilities for tennis, touring theatre and music programming.
Conservative opposition councillors aired their concerns at the cabinet meeting at the Town Hall on Wednesday evening (May 29).
Cllr Patrick Warner said he believed the ‘unsightly’ scaffolding should not have been left on the Congress Theatre for the last four years and less expensive repair works should have been carried out sooner.
Cabinet member Cllr Carolyn Heaps said, “This is not a pit stop repair.
“This is the first part of a big adventure. It is something we can leave out grandchildren and our great grandchildren.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Warner said, “The drastic hike in repair costs is extremely concerning, even more so given that we will only see a partial repair in the first instance.”