Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

What Waits in the Next Act?

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

What Waits in the Next Act?

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Blackburn

The dramatic decision to award Billingham Forum Theatre listed building status has thrown the regeneration plans for the town centre into disarray.

While jubilant campaigners fighting to save the theatre welcomed the decision by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, council chiefs warned it could put the entire regeneration of Billingham town centre at risk.

Under Stockton Council's controversial Billingham Gateway Scheme, the Forum would be demolished to make way for a supermarket and John Whitehead Park redeveloped with leisure, retail and health facilities.

The multi-million pound scheme has split opinion across the town. But all parties involved, whether in support or opposed, agree the town centre is badly in need of regeneration.

We asked some of the players what the future now holds for Billingham in light of the theatre's listing:

* Kevin Bowler, chairman of Save Our Theatre, said: "The future is looking a lot rosier for Billingham, because we think the theatre will be an integral part of the regeneration of the town.

"While it doesn't mean we have won the war, we have won the battle. We want the concentration to now go into the regeneration of the town centre."

* Alex Cunningham, Stockton Council's cabinet member for education, leisure and cultural services, admitted he was "very surprised" when the theatre was listed as two previous applications had failed.

"This must lead us to question why it has now been listed and we will now consider how we will respond to the decision.

"Inevitably, this will delay, and put at risk, the regeneration of Billingham Town Centre - and we must understand that doing nothing is not an option."

* Frank Crosby, co-ordinator of Billingham Action Team (BAT), said: "Clearly, this news has implications for the entire Gateway Project, and BAT will continue to work to secure a full town centre regeneration initiative that Billingham people want to see, rather than another supermarket and consumption of John Whitehead Park land. …

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