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MP supports community theatre campaign
AN MP has thrown his weight behind a campaign to create a community theatre – attacking council chiefs for attempting to suppress it.
Tom Blenkinsop, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, spoke up for Earthbeat, a group bidding to convert the former register office in Westgate, Guisborough.
The Labour MP presented a 4,000-signature petition to Parliament, urging Redcar and Cleveland Council to abandon attempts to stop the switch to a community theatre going ahead.
And he turned his fire on the Labour-controlled authority for preventing a discussion about the campaign at a recent meeting.
The handling of the controversy triggered a vote of no confidence in Redcar council leader George Dunning by the Labour branch in Guisborough, which accused him of presiding over “a catalogue of incompetence” at the town hall.
A separate motion of no confidence in Coun Dunning was tabled by Liberal Democrats at last week's borough council meeting, but was overwhelmingly defeated.
The council has agreed to sell the register office to the JD Wetherspoons pub chain, despite strong interest from Earthbeat, a theatre company of adults with learning disabilities.
Mr Blenkinsop stopped short of stepping into the row about the future of the council leader, who has insisted he will not step down.
But he said: “Tony Galuidi and others at Earthbeat have a strong campaign going to bring a theatre to Guisborough and it is a proposal I am very supportive of.
“Understandably, they want to make as many people aware of it as possible but, unfortunately, a discussion of Earthbeat’s 4,000-strong petition was not allowed to take place.
“I offered to present the petition in Parliament as a way to keep their campaign at the forefront of people’s minds.”
Earthbeat is seeking a ‘community asset transfer’, a Big Society scheme – championed by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles – to allow local groups to take over surplus public buildings.
Mr Galuidi, Earthbeat’s founder, accused Redcar council of being “cowardly and underhand” by refusing to allow the group to put its side of the story.
The debate was refused on the grounds that Earthbeat was mounting a judicial review of the decision, although the group said such a move was only under consideration.
Meanwhile, Coun Dunning has defended his leadership and pointed out that he has seen off previous challenges to his position.
He insisted the handling of the register office decision had been democratic and said the council was “bending over backwards” to help Earthbeat find an alternative venue.
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