After three years of fighting to bring the former Burnley Empire Theatre back to life, heritage campaigners have been dealt a blow with the news that it will be placed up for auction.
The future of the Grade II listed theatre, which has split opinion in the town in the three years since campaign group Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT) was set up, is now uncertain after it was placed for auction this week by ‘owners of last resort’, the Duchy of Lancaster.
The news marks a low point in a rollercoaster of developments for the former theatre in recent years, which has seen the National Trust express its support through to the disappointment of a recent arson attack several weeks ago.
A spokesman for BETT said: “The worse case scenario now is that a buyer makes a blind purchase, which has happened in the past, and then the buyer is incapable of covering the inherited costs from the local council.
“It could then be incapable of the listed buildings restoration costs and subsequently the building could be left vacant once again, unattended, unused, unsafe for years and back in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster, with Burnley Council once again liable for public safety.
“It seems very unlikely that someone will buy the theatre for very little with the view of demolishing it.
“Issues such as delisting the building and conducting a public inquiry would certainly calculate towards millions of pounds.
“Sadly, the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough is a recent example of how much these demolitions costs, costing in excess of £4m. before completion.”
Hopes of restoring the theatre to its former glory were raised in August when the Burnley Express revelaed that the National Trust had lent its support to campaigners.
The conservation organisation, which described the theatre as “a hidden gem”, joined the Theatres Trust and TheatreSearch in a campaign to bring the late-Victorian theatre back into use.
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.