Bristol Beacon charity will have to hand over profits to city council after £132m revamp

Bristol Beacon opens in NovemberBristol Beacon opens in November
Bristol Beacon opens in November | LDR
The agreement has been welcomed by Arts Council England

The charity running the Bristol Beacon will have to hand over part of its profits to help the city council claw back some of the £84million of taxpayer cash it has ploughed into the revamp.

Details are beginning to emerge of a new deal that has been struck between the local authority, which owns the concert venue, and Bristol Music Trust (BMT) following renegotiations over its 30-year lease in the wake of the project’s spiralling costs.

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The agreement has been welcomed by Arts Council England (ACE) just six months after the organisation raised concerns about potential changes to the arrangements, including the council’s decision to withdraw all funding to the trust.

BMT was founded in 2011 as a condition of capital funding from ACE for the £20milliion foyer refurbishment.

Demanding an urgent meeting with the council back in April, ACE South West area director Phil Gibby said at the time: “The local and national significance of Bristol Music Trust is immense, and anything that compromises their ability to deliver on their charitable objectives within their Bristol Beacon home, naturally gives us cause for concern.”

But he has now backed the fresh deal, which has been agreed in principle with talks ongoing to thrash out the finer points, which are likely to include how much BMT has to pay the local authority.

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Mr Gibby said: “The reopening of Bristol Beacon will be a landmark moment for Bristol’s cultural scene – it’s a project of local, regional and national significance, and we’re proud to have invested £22million into it.

“We applaud Bristol City Council’s commitment to seeing through this highly complex capital scheme and fully support its decision to award a renewed long-term lease to Bristol Music Trust on terms that work for both the council and the trust.

“The Beacon will deliver notable economic, social and cultural benefits to the city for generations to come, and we very much look forward to its reopening.”

A city council spokesperson said: “Bristol City Council has reached agreement in principle with BMT on the ongoing arrangements whereby they will be granted a 30-year conditional lease to run the Bristol Beacon on behalf of the city.

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“BMT will continue to provide an extensive programme of music education, community engagement and social value and will also repay a proportion of the funding from operating surpluses and the council will be represented on the board.

“The detailed agreements are being finalised and further details will be provided when that is complete.”

Last week, deputy mayor in charge of the council’s finances Cllr Craig Cheney (Labour, Hillfields) said during a media tour of the venue – which will reopen on November 30 – that the huge amount of money it had spent on the five-year renovations was justified because of the long-term economic benefits.

The original cost of £48million has risen several times because of unforeseen issues with the fabric of the Victorian building, including hollow pillars that were supposed to support roofs and unknown Elizabethan well shafts, with the final bill coming in at £132million.

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That includes £84million from the city council, instead of its initial £10million commitment, with other funders including the Heritage Lottery Fund and the West of England Combined Authority.

External auditors Grant Thornton have blamed the local authority for the soaring costs, and the council has admitted it will miss the watchdogs’ deadline to complete a “lessons learned” report to avoid similar costly mistakes.

That report is not set to be published until February 2024 – three months after the reopening.

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