A town council has been branded “inept and incompetent” after an inspection of an arts and culture venue found urgent repairs are required. 

The repair bill to fix the dilapidated Stanley Civic Hall is estimated to be a six-figure sum, councillors heard, following severe deterioration over the past few years. 

The Joint Administration running Durham County Council - made up of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent members - has now launched a scathing attack on the Labour-run Stanley Town Council for its management of the building. 

Formerly known as the Lamplight Arts Centre, and opened in 1961, the venue is a key cultural outlet in County Durham and hosts local groups and weddings among others including shows at the Alun Armstrong theatre. 

The Northern Echo: Formerly known as the Lamplight Arts Centre, and opened in 1961, the venue is a key cultural outlet in County Durham Formerly known as the Lamplight Arts Centre, and opened in 1961, the venue is a key cultural outlet in County Durham (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

But the centre was handed back to Durham County Council last year after the town council admitted it wasn’t able to keep up with the venue’s rising maintenance costs, while poor footfall also hindered progress. 

Local councillors issued an urgent appeal to improve the building last summer and said it could soon close after warning it was “falling to bits” and without a heating system. 

Conservative councillor James Rowlandson described the long-running issues with the Civic Hall at a recent full council meeting.

The cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, said: “When I was there I discovered a hole in the roof, leaking water onto the stage area, and that the three boilers heating the building were broken.”

The county council regained full control of the building this month but the town council’s legacy of managing the site has been blamed on its deteriorating condition. 

“The town council in years previously had engaged a consultant in excess of £30,000 to advise them on how to take forward the building,” Cllr Rowlandson added. 

“Despite this significant financial burden imposed on the residents of Stanley, the town council chose to disregard this valuable advice given to them. Since the town council took over the building they have received £7.8m in public money.

“I am at a loss to understand how the town council has not been able to deal with the obligations to maintain the building to an adequate standard. 

“I sincerely feel sorry for all the residents of Stanley being so let down by the clearly inept and incompetent Labour administration running Stanley Town Council.” 

But County Durham Labour says the blame should be pointed at the Derwentside Independent Group, which took on the Civic Hall without a structural survey when it ran the town council. 

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Opposition members also said it invested thousands of pounds to improve the building but was hindered by barriers to funding streams imposed by the county council. 

Labour leader, Cllr Carl Marshall, said: “Trying to score political points by blaming Labour for the state of the Civic Hall is laughable – it was the Derwentside Independent Group that took on the Hall, and it was a coalition-run county council who stripped away the budget to keep it operating. Labour inherited a mess and all it has ever done since is invest in it and try to make it work as a community asset.

“This coalition has neglected Stanley since it came to power, first cutting our investment pipeline and then blaming Labour for its own lack of delivery. Ultimately, a stupid, ill-informed decision by the Derwentside Independents has ended up costing the County Durham taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.”