New deal means no Buxton return for G&S festival

Buxton Opera House, which hosted many of the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival performances.

Buxton Opera House, which hosted many of the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival performances.

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The International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival will not be making a return to Buxton, its organisers have confirmed.

The festival has struck up a three-year deal to keep the event in Harrogate, which has been its home since its acrimonious departure from Buxton at the end of the 2013 season.

High Peak Theatre Trust, which runs Buxton Opera House and the Pavilion Arts Centre, expressed disappointment that its “detailed, fair and equitable” rival proposal had failed to entice the festival back to Buxton.

The Derbyshire town had been its hosts since 1994, attracting thousands of visitors each year, but a bitter dispute over funding prompted the move away.

Disappointing audience figures for its debut year in North Yorkshire had sparked doubts over the financial viability of the event, prompting a £165,000 fundraising appeal and re-igniting hopes of a possible return to Buxton.

But festival chairman Ian Smith has now confirmed the event will be staying put.

In a statement, he said: “I am pleased to be able to announce that we have accepted a proposal from Harrogate International Centre to take our festival back to Harrogate for the next three festivals - 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“The deal is a very solid one and we believe it offers the prospect for growth and stability after two difficult years.

“Undoubtedly this decision will please some and disappoint others. But the decision is made and removes any uncertainty for the next three years.”

Mr Smith added that the dates for Harrogate 2016 would be changed marginally, but that he had written to Buxton asking if the touring Opera Company could book the Opera House for a visit at the end of August.

Simon Glinn, Chief Executive of Buxton Opera House & Pavilion Arts Centre, said: “We are, naturally, very disappointed that the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival has decided not to return to Buxton.

“We share in Buxton’s disappointment with this decision as we consider it unlikely that any other business organisation has experienced the year-on-year negative financial impact from the festival’s relocation to Harrogate as High Peak Theatre Trust.

“Unfortunately it would appear that a combined package from Buxton was not as potentially lucrative as the three-year final offer from the venue and local authority in Harrogate.”

He added that the viability of the touring company’s request was still being evaluated, as the proposed dates fell outside of the period reserved in the diary following preliminary discussions.

‘Detailed, fair & equitable’ bid

Mr Glinn said High Peak Theatre Trust submitted a “very detailed, fair and equitable” proposal for the G&S festival to return to Buxton in 2016, the same terms being extendable for up to three years by the festival.

“This was developed through detailed discussions with the festival, as a result of which the trust offered to share a degree of the risk and - similarly and equitably - the success of the festival,” he said.

“We hoped that this proposal... alongside a parallel one-year proposal from the local authority concerning other facilities and resources - and through which the Trust also offered a further amount of direct cash support for the first year to facilitate the festival’s return - would prove attractive.”

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