Burnley’s historic former Empire Theatre has been placed for auction – for £1.
'Owners of last resort' the Duchy of Lancaster have placed the theatre up for auction, starting at £1, with a spokesman claiming this is “the only remaining solution” after reportedly offering campaigners the opportunity to come up with a viable plan for the preservation of the building.
The Burnley Express revealed earlier this month that hopes to restore the Grade II listed theatre to its former glory would be dashed by the news, but the Duchy of Lancaster has now offered some reassurance that the building could be used in the future.
A spokesman for the Duchy of Lancaster said the estate had worked closely with Burnley Borough Council and campaign group Burnley Empire Theatres Trust to try to ensure the 123-year-old building remained in local ownership.
The spokesman said: “We have offered it for sale at £1 and latterly offered to gift it to the council, the Theatres Trust and the National Trust for nil consideration.
“Having held the property for nearly four years to give these interested parties the opportunity to come up with a viable plan for the preservation and use of the property, there has been no realistic progress to date.
“All parties acknowledge that as ‘owner of last resort’ the Duchy is not responsible for the upkeep or restoration of the building. The only remaining solution therefore is to offer it for sale at auction.”
The Empire had previously won support from the Theatres Trust and the National Trust.
Architecture adviser at the Theatres Trust Claire Appleby said: “The worst case scenario is that Burnley Empire is bought by someone who has not understood the complexities and obligations associated with owning a grade II-listed building.
“This has happened before to Burnley Empire and other theatres at risk. The Empire has suffered from years of neglect, but we believe it is possible for this historically significant venue to be restored to its former glory.
“We are hopeful that any new owner will also see these opportunities and work with Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, ourselves and the National Trust towards a positive future for the Empire.
“We are certainly not giving up on Burnley Empire and would encourage anyone with an interest in seeing it restored and reopened for the benefit of the local community to support in any way they can.”
Ambitious plans were first mooted in 2015 when residents united to form the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust in aid of the abandoned cultural asset, which has lain vacant in Cow Lane for some 20 years, to raise awareness of its existence and prompt restoration.
Burnley Council chief executive Mick Cartledge said: "The town centre and canalside recently agreed by the council's executive does not rule out the restoration re-use of the building should a local group or other partner come forward with a viable and sustainable proposal.
"Indeed that would still be a desired outcome. Like BETT, we would also welcome an owner who would work with the local group to give the venue a positive future."