Council uses 'special powers' to seize control of Guild Hall


Just hours after entrepreneur Simon Rigby announced plans to reopen Preston Guild Hall, the council stepped in and used 'special powers' to take back control of the entertainment venue and have said the doors will remain closed for now.

The venue, which previously hosted performances by acts such as David Bowie and Queen, as well as once being the regular home of the UK Snooker Championships, was shuttered in late May and applied for administration a week later.

Yesterday, Rigby announced that though he had lost £6m through the venue since taking control in 2014, he planned to reopen it through a registered arts charity he is funding.

But the council immediately responded with a Special Urgency Decision to end Rigby's 999-year lease and retake control. Beverley Budsworth, the administrator appointed for Preston Guild Hall, agreed to the forfeiture after 'significant breaches of the lease agreement' and the decision was made effective immediately.

The decision was taken by the Preston City Council leader Brown with agreement from chair of overview and scrutiny, Preston Conservative leader Sue Whittam and chief executive Adrian Phillips.

Our ultimate hope is that it is back up and running as an entertainment venue as soon as possible.

Councillor Matthew Brown said: "Over recent weeks it has become abundantly clear that it was necessary for the City Council to intervene and re-gain control of the property. We are absolutely committed to finding the best possible solution for the future of the Guild Hall, and our ultimate hope is that it is back up and running as an entertainment venue as soon as possible.

"As I have said before, the decision to transfer the Guild Hall into Mr Rigby’s ownership was the only viable decision we could make at the time, with the information we had and the stark financial situation we were in. We acted in good faith and have been let down by the unacceptable behaviour of Mr Rigby."

Simon Rigby responded: "I have not had a single alleged breach brought to my attention by anyone."

"I read about Preston City Council 'taking back' Preston Guild Hall on Blog Preston. I then had calls from staff, so I assume Blog Preston knew before it actually happened. The administrator may have been informed but I was not."

He added: "In the short term I hope Preston City Council does nothing to unravel the work we have done on much improving Preston Guild Hall. I assume the council will be appointing one of the half dozen operators we have been working with over the last eight months."

Rigby said he would be seeking legal advice once he has heard from the council in an official capacity.

Councillor Matthew Brown added: "As we move forward, we are putting considerable effort into supporting the re-opening and successful future of Preston Guild Hall, but can only work within the current budget position of the council. We continue to be ambitious for the role of the Guild Hall within the city and are confident for the extensive regeneration that is currently taking place across Preston."

As a result of the move, the venue's Charter Theatre and Grand Hall will remain closed until further notice.