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Claims £225k HMT funding withdrawn ‘to get back at’ Boulton over Union Street vote

his majesty's aberdeen
His Majesty's Theatre in the heart of Aberdeen.

Aberdeen City Council’s culture tsar has implied funding was pulled from key city projects as punishment for her breaking rank on the future of Union Street.

Independent councillor Marie Boulton has invited the public to “draw their own conclusions” on why council cash for an overhaul of the His Majesty’s Theatre (HMT) extension was withdrawn.

Despite being the administration’s planning and capital convener – as well as culture spokeswoman – Mrs Boulton last week voted with the opposition to get buses and taxis back onto the closed off stretch of the Granite Mile.

And now, she has suggested cash promised to Aberdeen Performing Arts (APA) for the redevelopment of the HMT extension has been pulled in retribution.

Money was also pulled from the restoration of the Mither Kirk, with both “bystanders” pet projects Mrs Boulton had championed for public money.

But her administration colleagues have rejected the suggestion there was anything spiteful in their actions at the last full council meeting before May’s election.

Boulton: ‘Draw your own conclusions’ after HMT funding withdrawn

Having prepared her own 2022-23 budget proposals, which were not put forward at yesterday’s council meeting, the Lower Deeside member said she was “not proud” of her Labour and Conservative colleagues’ actions.

The £225,000 was promised to APA in November, as arts bosses mapped out how the iconic city stage would recover from the Covid pandemic.

Funding from the council was also key to unlocking another £200,000 from business quango Scottish Enterprise, on top of APA’s own reserves.

Now, Mrs Boulton claims the council’s renege means the national funding, understood to come with a ‘use it or lose it’ expiry date of March 31, will be lost too.

“We have heard the council is not cutting the budget for culture,” she told the chamber.

Councillor Marie Boulton said people should “draw their own conclusions” on the council withdrawing the HMT cash – implying it could be because she voted to reopen Union Street. Picture by Chris Sumner/DCT Media.

“But we are actually. Money was given to APA and because there was a tight timeline they had already supplied relevant documents, planning applications and have paid for the building warrant.

“Now they have had the money taken away.

“You can draw the link to something that I maybe did last week, and that I was the one who pushed for it (council funding for APA).

“I will leave people to draw their own conclusions – but this has left them out of pocket having spent money they won’t get back.”

Council officials had not put the withdrawal of the money up as an option to consider as members balanced the books.

“Councillors knew fine in November that this money had to be spent by March 31 otherwise we had to give the money back to Scottish Enterprise,” Mrs Boulton added.

“That is why there was such a rush for it.

“I have never seen it happen in 15 years on the council. It’s fine to want to get back at me but don’t implicate APA – a charity that has just gone through hell with Covid – and the Mither Kirk volunteers.”

APA was approached for comment last night as Mrs Boulton revealed fears the revamp plans would be “out the window” without the £425,000 in public cash.

HMT revamp is hoped to keep business ‘viable’

In January, outgoing APA chief executive Jane Spiers said the alterations were needed after a bruising spell for the theatre in the pandemic.

Jane Spiers said the HMT redevelopment was key in keeping the iconic venue "viable" as a business after Covid. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.
Jane Spiers said the HMT redevelopment was key in keeping the iconic venue “viable” as a business after Covid. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

The five-storey glazed block was added to the A-listed 1906 building in Rosemount Viaduct in 2005.

APA’s planned overhaul would create badly-needed extra space near the box office to make more room for people queuing by removing the staircase and cafe.

On the floor above, a “new and expanded cafe bar” is planned, offering impressive views over the upgraded Union Terrace Gardens, which should open by the end of April.

Imploring the council to back the plans at the beginning of the year, Ms Spiers said: “In order to remain a viable business going forward, we need to keep our audiences, performers and staff safe and give them the confidence to return.”

Houghton: ‘Up in the air’ city centre plans behind HMT overhaul pause

However, Conservative council finance convener Ryan Houghton rejected the suggestion that APA and the volunteers working to restore Mither Kirk had been caught in the political crossfire.

Mrs Boulton’s fellow administration leader, Mr Houghton claimed the council’s accountants said APA was yet to make any sort of move to draw down the funding.

The George Street and Harbour member told The P&J: “Well, Marie Boulton will have to speak for Marie Boulton… and organisations can take projects like that forward themselves.

Councillor Ryan Houghton feels it is "sensible to pause" investment in projects around Aberdeen in light of the Union Street vote. Picture by Jim Irvine/DCT Media.
Councillor Ryan Houghton feels it is “sensible to pause” investment in projects around Aberdeen in light of the Union Street vote. Picture by Jim Irvine/DCT Media.

“But in terms of why we took this decision, we agreed to contribute towards that scheme last November.

“Then last week plans for the city centre were thrown in the air, and we are looking at all the projects we had tabled for our £150m masterplan.

“When the reports come back in June, it can be included then. But at the moment it felt sensible to hit pause, and give the new council the opportunity to put it back in.”

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