Queen’s Hall chief attacks quango criticism

Janet Archer is Creative Scotland's new chief. Picture: Neil Hanna
Janet Archer is Creative Scotland's new chief. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE future of one of Edinburgh’s leading concert venues has been thrown into doubt by Scotland’s national arts quango.

The Queen’s Hall is facing an uncertain future after being criticised in a major report ordered by Creative Scotland.

Managers of the popular venue, which has been staging shows since 1979, have been left furious after the quango said the listed building was unsuitable and inflexible for many major events, effectively ruling out support for a planned revamp.

The report has instead recommended the city pursue a brand new medium-sized venue, warning that Edinburgh is lagging behind Glasgow when it comes to venues suitable for “high-quality” music. The most likely site would involve an extension of the existing culture quarter near the Usher Hall, Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres.

Queen’s Hall chief executive Adrian Harris said the findings about the venue were “confusing”, “contradictory” and “inaccurate”, and were being led by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), which wants a new flagship venue built for the organisation in the city centre.

The blow has emerged almost a year after the Queen’s Hall’s long-delayed plans for an £8.5 million refurbishment were turned down for funding by Creative Scotland. At the time, officials insisted the venue would be able to re-apply in the next funding round.

But the long-awaited review of the music sector said the venue was “insufficiently flexible and not well suited for many such events, particularly because as a listed building any major alterations are simply not possible”.

It added: “This is especially true for its use by the SCO, who use it regularly because there is no suitable alternative, and who have been exploring ideas for an alternative venue. We suggest a specific review of the mid-scale venue provision in Edinburgh – with Creative Scotland in partnership with the City of Edinburgh and others – which should aspire to explore possible development plans over the longer term.”

The report, based on research produced by an expert steering group, which several senior Creative Scotland officials sat on, said that while the priority around the country should be on upgrading existing facilities, there was a “particular issue around a mid-scale venue for Edinburgh”.

Mr Harris pointed out that the same study had singled out the venue for praise because of the wide range of music it stages throughout the year.

He added: “To say it is impossible to refurbish the building is simply inaccurate and contradicts what we have been told by the council and Historic Scotland. We are frustrated this is being driven by the requirements of the orchestra.”

Roy McEwan, chief executive of the SCO, said: “There are a lot of issues for us with the Queen’s Hall, including the capacity, the large number of restricted-view seats and the fact the stage is often not big enough for a large orchestra.”

Richard Lewis, the city council’s culture leader, said: The Queen’s Hall is an important contributor to Edinburgh’s cultural landscape and promotes a wide range of styles of music. It is a highly valued venue in Edinburgh and there is widespread recognition that it is in need of refurbishment.

“We are also aware of the SCO’s long-held ambition to secure a purpose built facility. We would welcome the opportunity to work with Creative Scotland on the feasibility of a mid-scale music venue in the Capital.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We are in continuing dialogue with the city council, the Queen’s Hall and music organisations to review mid-scale venue provision in Edinburgh.”