Borough council chiefs have defended the cost of running Lynn’s Corn Exchange after new documents revealed the authority faces a £600,000 bill for the venue this year.
Figures contained in the authority’s financial plan for the next three years show that running the theatre will cost the borough £602,980 during the current financial year, the equivalent of £1,652 per day.
And that figure, which is projected to rise to £661,560 by 2016-17, a daily bill of around £1,812, comes despite record pantomime ticket sales worth almost £240,000.
The council says the theatre had an average of 62 per cent seat occupancy in the year 2012-13, just above the industry average of 59 per cent.
A spokesman said yesterday: “Not all productions sell out but it is important to have a varied cultural offer for the residents of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.”
But the figures provoked debate during Thursday’s full council meeting, where Hunstanton councillor Richard Bird asked: “Why is the Corn Exchange losing so much money? What’s going wrong?
“This is the rate payers’ money we’re talking about, some of whom have never used the Corn Exchange. In these times of austerity is this right or fair?
But David Pope, the council’s portfolio holder for assets, said he could not see why anyone would complain about the Corn Exchange, which he described as being “well run and well used.”
And Mr Pope said: “I’m sure if you spoke to all those people who went to the panto, they wouldn’t complain about the subsidy. They’d say it was good value for money.
“Can you imagine the uproar if we closed down the Corn Exchange? It’s one of the jewels of this town.”
He also expressed his confidence that the newly appointed leisure trust, which is set to take over the management of the Corn Exchange and several other sports and leisure facilities across the borough this summer, would reduce losses and maintain value for taxpayers.
However, Mr Bird claimed the projected shortfalls were similar to those which closed the resort’s Princess Theatre in 2010, when such figures were deemed unviable.
He called for the Princess to receive a portion of council subsidy, something which Mr Pope said was already happening.
He added: “It’s limited to what we can put into Hunstanton. They get thousands and thousands of passing trade each weekend. It’s up to them to pull them into the theatre.”