Controversial hall hire charges U-turn

Refurbished Royal Hall, Harrogate
Refurbished Royal Hall, Harrogate

COMMUNITY groups using the Royal Hall should see their charges reduced from April, after a dramatic U-turn by Harrogate Council.

Amateur organisations had been left fuming at the prospect of a steep increase in rental fees pricing them out of the very building they helped to save.

But the council’s cabinet has now asked new Harrogate International Centre (HIC) head Angus Houston to review the charges, with a “strong possibility” that the community rate will be cut.

Coun Mike Gardner, leader of the council and chairman of the HIC board, said: “We took this decision because there’s a lot of public concern about charging for community events.

“My request is to get the charges down as low as possible, so I expect that we are not putting them up and there is a strong possibility that they will come down.”

Community groups currently pay £1,750 a night to rent the venue. Coun Gardner said savings could be made by reducing the amount of staff time given to amateur groups when they hire the hall.

“We only charge quite a low level, but we are going to look at the way we operate and try to come up with a new approach, doing only what is necessary in terms of staffing,” Coun Gardner said.

Community groups have welcomed the announcement.

Judith Hardman, chairman of Harrogate Gilbert and Sullivan Society, told the Advertiser: “This is absolutely fantastic news. I can hardly believe it, because in this day and age everybody’s putting things up.

“That £1,750 is still an astronomical amount of money for a society to find, and it cuts into any profit that the society may make.

“But at least we know the ceiling - the costs aren’t just escalating and escalating so it’s truly out of anybody’s reach to put on a show.”

Colin Gibbs, president of Tewit Youth Band, said his organisation may now be able to use the hall, having previously been priced out of contention.

“We couldn’t currently afford to hire the Royal Hall, because we have to live very, very carefully within our means, but we are very much for it,” he said.

“If the costs were alright, we would certainly consider if it was viable to do a joint concert with some other bands, and if they can reduce it for lots of other organisations, it will be a very, very good thing.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the council’s cabinet was asked to decide whether the community rate should be increased in line with inflation to £1,810 a night, as requested by the HIC, or freeze charges.

But after hearing from Coun Andrew Goss, who read comments from community groups quoted in the Advertiser in October, members voted to send the matter to review. The report will come to cabinet on Wednesday, March 9.