EXCLUSIVE: Plans for major new cultural hub in Lancaster

The Dukes Theatre Lancaster
The Dukes Theatre Lancaster

A brand new multi-million pound cultural hub for Lancaster is being planned as part of the Canal Corridor North development.

Lancaster City Council says it will act as lead applicant in applying for up to £5m of funding from Arts Council England (ACE) in order to get the ball rolling on detailed proposals for the new venue.

A report which will go before councillors next week says that one of the key elements of the development is the potential to include a much enhanced arts and cultural facility which would become the second “anchor” to complement a major retail store anchor.

The facility would include an expanded Dukes theatre and potentially provision for other local arts providers such as LUDUS Dance.

Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, said: “As part of the Canal Corridor scheme a new arts and cultural facility is being explored. The intention is to build upon the existing high quality arts and culture offer in Lancaster and provide a market leading cultural hub as a key anchor of the CCN scheme and the city.

“This will significantly increase Lancaster’s profile as an arts city and help realise the enormous economic potential of this sector.”

“It is too early to state what the actual facility will include or look like. However, the intention is to radically improve the current offer in the city. “As part of this, the city’s two national portfolio organisations, the Dukes Theatre and Lancaster University are an essential part of the discussions.”

The current round for submitting Arts Council England capital funding bids is now open, with a deadline of October 20 and results announced in June 2017.

The council said that because of this deadline, and the important contribution a grant of up to £5m would make to the overall viability of the CCN scheme, work on the new cultural facility has been prioritised.

If the Stage 1 bid is successful, this will provide access to ACE funding to develop a Stage 2 bid in more detail which must then be submitted within 18 months.

Another report published this month called Future Arts Provision in Lancaster found that levels of live performances and overall attendance has declined at The Dukes, from a total of 33,682 attendances in 2011/12 to 27,521 in 2015/16.

But it also found that cinema is outperforming all other parts of the Dukes programme and The Dukes returned a small profit in 2015/16 for the first time in several years.

However it also said the Moor Lane theatre and cultural venue faces ongoing challenges to its sustainability with the future loss of funding from Lancashire Council.

In 2015/16 The Dukes received £158,550 from the county council, but this is projected to reduce to zero in 2018/19.

The report said the Dukes plans to increase its income from giving and sponsorship.

Dukes executive director Ivan Wadeson said: “The Dukes has no comment at this time but we look forward to seeing details of the proposals and would welcome a scheme which enables arts and culture to contribute even more to the economy of Lancaster.”