A COUNCIL has agreed to underwrite £1.6m of the estimated £8.2m cost of restoring a North-East theatre, in the hope of encouraging further investment.

Darlington Borough Council has applied for help from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the work at Darlington Civic Theatre, which needs a major overhaul for it to remain viable.

The council, like many others in the region, is faced with having to make millions of pounds worth of cuts to balance its books.

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In a report to members, the council's director of resources Paul Wildsmith said fundraising would be necessary to reach the £1.6m target.

He wrote: "Such a significant sum cannot be raised without considerable investment in terms of senior officer time and financial input.

"With any fundraising campaign, there is a risk that the target is not achieved.

"This funding is required to deliver the overall project and therefore it is necessary to consider how this element of the project could be funded if the fundraising campaign is unsuccessful.

"The restored Civic Theatre will have increased seating capacity, as well as improving the quality of seating throughout the auditorium.

"Changes to the seating layout will increase ticket sales."

Chief executive Ada Burns will lead the fundraising drive and the council has also agreed to appoint a development and fundraising manager for the theatre - a post that will attract a salary of up to £35,000."

An earlier bid for £5m of HLF help was unsuccessful, but hopes are high the theatre will be included in the next round of grants.

Councillor Nick Wallis, cabinet member for leisure, said he was hoping for 'good news' when the HLF announces its decision on funding grants in September.

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of the opposing Conservative group, added: "I support the recommendations and hope we will be successful with our HLF bid.

"I understand we were near the top last time and hopefully we will be at the top of the pile this time round.

"We should encourage people from outside the authority to do some of the fundraising.

"We should should approach somebody like Vic Reeves, who is local, and might be willing to act as a patron for us."

Cllr Wallis replied: "We are looking to identify people that can bring not just money but a sense of profile to one of the best-preserved and best-loved theatres in the UK."