Dear Editor,

The concept of building a civic hub was first put forward by a former mayor, Brian Gaiger, and he used this as his charity.

Some years later because of a financial windfall the Leader of the council, Councillor Stephen Reid, decided to revisit the idea. At the time, the Haymarket was being upgraded, the architects were asked to come up with a plan, and the Anvil Concert Hall was born. It was built to the highest standards, and it has turned out to be best concert hall in the UK – some orchestras say among the best in Europe.

Besides offering a wide range of entertainment, the Anvil generates publicity and positive reviews for Basingstoke. When talks were going on with Grosvenor Developments about building Festival Place, I was there. The question was asked – why are you investing 300 million pounds into Basingstoke? The reply was very straightforward, ‘It is because you built one of the best concert halls in the UK’ – if nothing else that is why it must be retained.

People and young people attend the Anvil from all over the south of England. In 2019 there were 170,000 visits and 21,000 young people attended. All these are people who get a chance to see the town centre as well. The Council now faces the challenge, with Debenhams and John Lewis going, of attracting new stores into the town centre.

Why would the Council choose this precise moment to put over six million pounds of income generated by the Anvil into the town centre at risk, at the very time it needs more investment, not less? It makes no sense.

The Anvil had a five-year investment agreement, withdrawn at the last moment by Councillors who have clearly failed to recognize the town’s greatest assets, as demonstrated by their actions over the Leisure Park as well. Why would prospective developers trust the Council on any agreements when it reneges on an agreement with a trust it set up itself?

My personal opinion is that key Councillors on Basingstoke and Deane are not fit for purpose, and I say that as someone who has been a Conservative all my life. In May, voters might like to ask their candidates ‘will you support the arts and all the benefits the arts bring to everyone in the town centre? Do you realise that a lack of support might make more people redundant, and not just from the arts sector?’

Honorary Alderman Keith Chapman MBE