Salisbury City Hall
City Hall in Salisbury closed as an entertainment venue in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From December 2020 to January 2023 it was used as a mass vaccination centre to support the efforts to keep as many people protected from COVID-19 as possible.
We are looking at all the options available to reopen the venue as an entertainment venue.
July 2023 update
We have reaffirmed our commitment to reopening Salisbury's City Hall as a revitalised entertainment and cultural venue.
Our recent repair surveys on the existing City Hall building established that repairs would be over £2m to make the building useable, without improving the overall quality of experience for visitors to the venue. The work required also means that the council's public liability insurance would not be valid, and therefore it is unable to reopen City Hall in its current state at this time.
However, we continue to investigate different funding options which could see the existing City Hall building enhanced, creating a modern entertainment venue, bringing with it wider economic benefits to Salisbury and the surrounding areas, while complementing the city's existing and emerging cultural offer.
Being able to make a significant investment would also provide the option to consider moving the city's library and Young Gallery into the redeveloped City Hall. The current library will need around £1m of repairs and it may be a sensible option to embed it as part of the new City Hall project, given it wouldn't need to close while that site is being worked on. We are committed to developing an innovative library service in the city in a building fit for the future. However, no final decisions have been made regarding the library and all stakeholders will be kept up to date.
Any formal plans will be subject to relevant planning and development processes.
On 17 July 2023 Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, sent out a written briefing to Wiltshire councillors and town and parishes to provide more information on City Hall, including more details about its current condition and some income and expenditure figures of the venue since Wiltshire Council was created in 2009. Here is the full briefing:
Update in July 2023 on City Hall from Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council
Following a number of recent enquires that we've received, I thought it would be useful to share some information on the condition of City Hall in Salisbury, which I hope provides you with some context on the current situation as we continue to plan for the venue's future.
I'm aware that not all of you will have a vested interest in the venue but in the spirit of transparency I thought it would be best to share this with everyone.
Firstly, I'd like to reiterate that we remain fully committed to reopening City Hall as an entertainment venue. We continue to investigate funding options which could see the existing building enhanced, creating a modern entertainment venue.
However, we can't open a building which isn't safe to allow live music to be played in.
We have a working group in place and will be undertaking further assessment on the best solution for City Hall so that it can be an entertainment venue that is sustainable for the long term. It is our ambition for an enhanced City Hall to be part of the city's Cultural Quarter concept as the economic benefits to the city and wider area would be incredibly positive, but we have some important work to do and steps to take before we reach that point.
There has also been some public discussion about the income the venue generated while it was leased to the NHS to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Although we did receive income from the NHS due to our lease agreement with them, it's important to note there was still significant expenditure required to be spent on the building during this period. The income generated was put into the council's overall budget to help us manage our services at a financially unpredictable time for the country. Due to how we manage our budgets, this income would not have been able to have been ring-fenced solely for City Hall, and even if we had done that it would have still been far short of what is required to make the necessary repairs.
You will clearly see that until the COVID-19 pandemic the venue made an annual loss, and this happened every year since Wiltshire Council was created. We are now focused on working up plans on the future of City Hall as an entertainment venue that represents best value for money for tax payers and gives it the best opportunity to thrive for the long-term.
Enclosed below you will find an email in full from Wiltshire Council's Corporate Director for Resources and Deputy Chief Executive Andy Brown which was sent to me on 30 June 2023. In summary, following a number of mitigating factors, it has been clearly recommended to me that repair work should be undertaken before we can think about reopening the venue. A surveyor's instruction to us was to keep acoustic stress to an absolute minimum until further investigations had been undertaken on the ceiling. The email also confirms the council's insurance policy contains a material damage policy that has a general clause stating that a building must be kept in good repair, otherwise the policy is invalidated. Additionally, our public liability policy would likely be invalidated in the case of an incident and/or injury. For these clear reasons, it's simply not possible to re-open the venue at this moment in time.
There has been a lot of recent public discussion about City Hall, and it's clear that people are extremely passionate about this venue which has been part of the city's cultural fabric for many years. We all want the same thing - a thriving City Hall that's befitting of Wiltshire's only city. We'll continue to work hard to ensure that happens.
We'll keep you updated as we progress with this work.
Cllr Richard Clewer
Leader, Wiltshire Council
Email sent to Cllr Richard Clewer from Andy Brown, Wiltshire Council's Corporate Director for Resources and Deputy Chief Executive, on 30 June 2023 at 3:34pm
You asked the question on the repair issues facing Salisbury City Hall & whether the venue could be re-opened in its current state.
I thought it would be helpful to provide some context and background before providing my professional advice.
The ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London's West End in December 2013 Apollo Theatre: Ceiling collapses during show in London - BBC News) highlighted the urgent need to effectively monitor and maintain large suspended fibrous plaster ceilings in hundreds of theatres and other public buildings across the UK.
In May 2015, 18 months after the Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse and following a year-long investigation, the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) published guidance on how to inspect, certify and record the condition of suspended fibrous plaster ceilings.
We know the ceiling is the same type as that which collapsed at the Apollo Theatre. To clarify the roof, although also needing repair, will not fall in it is the suspended plaster ceiling below which may fail and fall into the auditorium.
In December 2018, a piece of ceiling, similar in size to a dinner plate, fell from the Salisbury City Hall ceiling. No one was injured.
Following this we commissioned, in line with ABTT Guidance Note 20, a baseline suspended fibrous plaster ceiling survey (covering all ceilings of this type on-site) - the resulting report (July 2019) identified several actions including:
1.1 In the Auditorium area, immediate access is required to inspect the cracking in the ceiling next to the lighting room - this cracking is a cause for concern. This may require temporary removal of the retractable seating to allow access from the scaffolding or scaffold tower. The inspection should include all decorative plasterwork. Following the surveys and knowing the extent of defective areas, remedial works to the ceiling will be required to prevent failure in the future.
Reviewing these recommendations, we then commissioned a more in-depth survey of the auditorium ceiling itself. This had to be worked around operations at City Hall and then delayed by the COVID pandemic. The surveyor's instruction to us was to keep acoustic stress to an absolute minimum until further investigations had been undertaken.
It is unlikely that condition of the auditorium ceiling has improved since the 2018 survey and the most recent condition survey has reflected this by including a provisional sum of £250K, pending a further detailed investigation; this was part of the overall £2m needed in repairs of which electrical and mechanical works make up £900K. It may be that the plaster ceiling only requires minor repair, but it may equally be true that the whole of the ceiling could need replacement.
This then brings me onto the insurance angle. The Councils insurance policy contains a material damage policy that has a general clause stating that a building must be kept in good repair, otherwise the policy is invalidated. Additionally, our public liability policy would likely be invalidated in the case of an incident and/or injury.
Given this history, the understanding of the evidence provided to date and the current position, it is clear that there is a significant risk and liability to the Council, as well as endangering users of the venue, if we were to open the building to be an entertainment venue playing loud music.
My clear recommendation is to undertake any required Health & Safety repair works before the venue is re-opened. However, given that these works cost up to £2m we have paused while we undertake an assessment of plans on the best solution for the future of city hall as an entertainment venue with the potential for inclusion of the library. Officers are focused on working up these plans and we hope to be able to present options to you in the next 3 months.
If there is anything else you need or have further queries then please let me know.
Corporate Director Resources & Deputy Chief Executive (S.151 Officer)
Recent press releases
Wiltshire Council provides City Hall update - 17 July 2023
NHS set to leave City Hall following successful vaccination drive - 26 January 2023
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