TALKS are to resume over moves to submit a new bid for £24m in Government funding to help restore a North-East theatre to its former glory.

Stockton Borough Council, management company Riverside Leisure and residents' action group the Billingham Partnership are to meet later this month in the hope of drawing up a successful bid to save Billingham Forum from ruin.

Despite being granted listed building status in 2004, the Government last year turned down a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) bid that would have guaranteed a further 25-year lifespan for the rundown theatre.

But Stockton council has now received information explaining why the bid failed, so hopes are high it can be more successful next time.

Kevin Pitt, manager of Billingham Partnership, said: "Stockton council has received feedback as to why we did not get the PFI bid, so the first thing we have to do is address those issues.

"If we can do that and re-submit it, we feel we will get the necessary funding. We are meeting this month to discuss how best we can submit another bid."

The Forum, which became renowned across the region for attracting top name shows in its 35-year history, remains in a highly vulnerable condition.

Last year, the council spent £250,000 on repairs to the building after heavy winds caused severe damage to the roof - but £24m is needed to safeguard its long-term future.

In April, the council is to start negotiations with Riverside Leisure and Tees Active with a view to further extending the management contract for the forum, which will be held by Riverside Leisure until March next year.

"We will, as we have pledged, do our utmost to find a satisfactory way forward and negotiations with Riverside Leisure are due to start in April," said Councillor Jean O'Donnell, Stockton council's cabinet member for arts, leisure and culture.

"However, despite our will and determination, it must be stressed that we are trying to sustain what is a fragile and deteriorating building. This is made all the more complicated by its listed status."

John Tough, chairman of Billingham Partnership, said: "We welcome working with our partners and look at all options for future development of the Forum."