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Islington Tribune - by ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 19 June 2009

The development next to Islington Green, on the site of the Collins Music Hall
Waiting in wings... theatre still a shell after 20-year campaign

Wrangle delays opening of 600-seat auditorium at shops-flats development

IT is 100th the size of the Emirates Stadium and cost a fraction of that project’s £400million price tag, yet the Collins Theatre – due to open on Islington Green – is taking more than twice as long to finish.

The main building work finished last year at the £28million development, with its 600-seat underground theatre, shops and flats, but things have remained mysteriously quiet ever since.
Now, the Tribune has learned, the Collins Theatre Trust is involved in a wrangle with developer Frasers Property which has delayed the opening of the theatre indefinitely.
The trust, headed by millionaire property developer Robert Bourne and his wife, Old Vic chief executive Sally Greene, was expected to take control of the underground space last year, with a view to opening this Christmas.
But the theatre, on the site of the former Collins Music Hall, remains an empty shell. The trust has not yet taken possession of the keys and no fittings have been installed.
Trust spokesman Hugh Rosen admitted this week he could not set a date for the opening of the theatre.
He blamed the delay on technical building issues which mean the keys will not be handed over until practical completion is reached. This cannot happen until Frasers Property and the trust have reached an agreement.
Mr Rosen has downplayed the differences between the trust and the developer. “Nothing’s happening physically,” he admitted. “We haven’t got a date for practical completion, when both parties are happy that each side has delivered the contract. It’s technical.
“They have to complete certain criteria to hand over the building and they haven’t yet. It happens, it’s normal. It’s taken time and we have to grin and bear it.”
He added: “I’m sitting with everyone else in Islington waiting for this to happen. We have ideas, we have a theatre we’re waiting to fit out, the plan hasn’t changed. I’m measuring the passing of my life with the way the cobwebs are collecting on the beautiful courtyard of the Collins.”
Mr Rosen, who said financing was “not an issue”, added that there was also an eight-month wait for EDF to install an electricity sub-station, which will date from the time the keys have been handed over.
Frasers Property’s marketing director David Skelton would not say what issues were under discussion, but added: “The theatre’s a shell. The trust hasn’t taken occupation of the theatre and the ground floor.”
Avis Baldry, chairwoman of the Anderson’s Yard Campaign for a theatre on the site, toured the building last year after the shell was completed. “It is amazing,” she said. “There’s a huge amount of open space and it has a tremendous amount of potential. It’s very frustrating.
“The very last bit of it was our top priority – a replacement of the Collins Music Hall. The next step was to fit out the theatre. We were there poised for it to start.
“We’ll just have to be a bit more patient. After 20 years’ campaigning, I hope I live to see it. I’m 73 years old. It was a tremendous community effort.”
Virginia Low, a founder member of the campaign said: “It’s a pity to leave a big space wasted. An empty site somehow leaves a negative impression. It would be really nice – after 20 years of campaigning – to see it happen.”

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