The council’s PR blurb [Herald, April 8] asserts that ‘architecturally, the Grade II* listed Congress Theatre is of national importance ... ranking alongside the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall’.
This is the kind of self-deluding nonsense that has prevented Eastbourne from ever gaining substantial regeneration monies.
The Congress is of importance to the town, but it is not of ‘national importance’, or it would have been fully and properly redesigned and re-equipped 10 or 15 years ago.
And the venue’s only architectural link to great national institutions such as the NT or the RFH is that some of its seats face its stage.
In the very different circumstances of 1963 it was quite reasonable to try to create a medium-sized civic venue which combined the different requirements of pop concerts, orchestral recitals, musical theatre and conferences.
Now the technical demands of all four have developed to the point at which it is impossible to combine them successfully.
Conferences, for instance, now require a sophisticated level of electronic communication in all the meeting rooms, linked with first class hotel accommodation for all delegates, and (of ever-increasing importance) state-of-the-art surveillance and security.
Such specialist needs are in every way different from those of a touring musical, or an LSO concert.
That is why conferences are not held in the Royal Festival Hall, and Black Sabbath do not appear in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
Claiming that righting the slewed lift shafts, tizzing up the foyer and joining it to the curious new ‘Welcome Centre’ will make the Congress a combined national theatre, national concert hall and national conference centre is the sort of specious nonsense by which consultants earn their expensive keep.
Their Devonshire Park ‘plan’ bodges together a number of buildings, including the Congress, with conflicting or unattainable purposes and says this will lead to desirable ‘outcomes’ – for which there is not a shred of properly-researched evidence.
It should be comprehensively rethought. And meanwhile the council must not be allowed to compensate for its failure to draw down public funding by selling off a genuine asset, the four downland farms, in order to help finance what is, at base, a cultural chimera.
Professor John Pick
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