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Operatic festival could return to Buxton

Flashback to August 2009 and a photocall with Festival Director Neil Smith, Andrew Aughton, Andrew Bingham and Artistic Director Ian Smith regarding a deal to secure the future of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton.

Flashback to August 2009 and a photocall with Festival Director Neil Smith, Andrew Aughton, Andrew Bingham and Artistic Director Ian Smith regarding a deal to secure the future of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton.

The Gilbert and Sullivan festival could return to Buxton in 2015, after the council resolved to pay organisers £12,000, ending a five-month standoff.

As previously reported, Ian Smith, chairman of the annual operatic event, announced in June that the international festival would be taking place in Harrogate next summer, after 20 years in Buxton.

He ceased negotiations with High Peak Borough Council about the future of the three-week festival, claiming the authority had reneged on the terms of the final year of a five-year agreement by not providing a £12,436.28 grant.

On Tuesday, council leader Caitlin Bisknell wrote to Mr Smith to say the council was prepared to pay the balance.

She said: “In doing this we do not accept that a contract existed between the G and S Festival and the council, as is clear from the lack of any signed agreement. If, as you say, you are prepared to discuss a return to Buxton, we are ready to have a discussion with you about a multi-year arrangement at any time as we have previously indicated.”

Mr Smith told the Advertiser he welcomed the news and was willing to open talks with the council in March, once payment was received, but was not prepared to talk to Cllr Bisknell.

He said: “I didn’t know until about 18 months ago that what I had signed was not an actual contract. There was an agreement and I signed everything in good will in my view.”

“It’s one of the world’s major festivals in Buxton,” Mr Smith added. “We brought 56 festival performances and 60 fringe shows and immense pleasure to Buxton people and people from all over the world. For 20 years, the town welcomed us. The opera house is magnificent. No one was more sorry than me about leaving Buxton.”

Cllr Bisknell’s letter went on to express her disappointment that the organisers failed to recognise that the festival had received substantial public funding, to the tune of £180,000, over the past three years, comprising discounted room hire, grant funding, commission on ales, supper club and personal drinks allowance.

Mr Smith branded the figure as “ridiculous”.

Cllr Bisknell concluded that the council faces cuts of £2.6 million and as a result has to review its funding priorities, saying: “In the case of the G and S Festival, it is clear that there is an economic benefit to Buxton from its presence. However, it is less clear that a public subsidy, and in particular a cash grant, is needed to support the festival. Buxton has proved to be a popular and lucrative venue for the festival in the past and I am sure it would continue to be in the future.”

 

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