It is unacceptable that a town the size of Luton, with a population approaching two hundred thousand, does not have a decent civic hall for public gatherings and theatre and concert performances. It is shameful that we are the largest town in the region, and perhaps in the country, without such a civic amenity. And it is scandalous that the Labour council – which, in their 2007 local election manifesto, promised to develop “a cultural vision for Luton” – have pulled the plug on this vision by removing from the council’s capital programme the commitment to pursue such a project, even though it has always been assumed that the private sector would be expected to fund it.
In the last version of the Luton Local Plan, the then Liberal Democrat council identified the possibility of providing, in partnership with a third party, a large theatre and multi-performance venue in the town centre. The aim of keeping this project in the council’s capital programme was to keep alive the hope that, one day, a developer would see the commercial opportunity of building a civic hall in Luton as part of a major regeneration of the town. Now, as soon as this council starts to get serious about persuading investors to “Think Luton, Think Success”, and begins to look for business partners to deliver the much-needed transformation and improvement of the town, what does it do? It sends out the clear message to those developers and investors that Luton does not want, or need, a civic centre by removing all mention of it from its capital programme!
How sad that the Labour councillors do not care about this town, or have any civic pride in the place. How sad that they cannot even keep alive the hope that, one day, Luton will be able to have its own performance venue, where decent-sized audiences could enjoy theatre, concerts and other major public events. How sad that Dunstable – considerably smaller than Luton – can boast a venue for nearly 800 people, when all we can offer is the (tiny) Hat Factory and the (238-seat) Library Theatre. How sad that Lutonians must travel to Dunstable, or Stevenage, or Milton Keynes, or London, to enjoy performances and facilities of any size and significance. How sad that Lutonians have to put up with yet more retail outlets, pubs, bars and cheap restaurants, instead of the decent entertainment and cultural facilities which we have waited decades for, and which we deserve.