£36m Hull conference centre back from the drawing board

The team behind Hull’s planned new £36m conference centre has come up with a revised design after a city council planning committee knocked back the draft submitted before the New Year.

Councillors had claimed the previously submitted design was not of “adequately high standard” and too “pointy”.

A new ‘curvier’ design is back with the councillors with project supporters hoping for a green light in March.

The plan is still for a 3,500-capacity multi-use auditorium with retractable seating. The centre would sit inside a system of plazas linking to the rest of the city centre.

Analysis reports claimed a new conference centre could attract 240,000 visitors a year and inject £13.8m into the local economy of England’s 10th biggest city.

Opposition voices on the council, however, had objected to what they claim would be a £1m a year interest liability for the necessary loan amount for the project. They said it would put more strain on already cash-strapped frontline council services.

Liberal Democrat group leader, Councillor Mike Ross, has called for the private sector to take the lead instead and raised concerns that the new conference centre might leave Hull City Hall’s events order book empty.

Council leader Steve Brady, however, is confident that the new plans would be approved. “It has been very well received by the public of Hull who feel like we have needed something like this for a long time,” he said. “The area has been lacking in investment for a long time.”

Industry venue consultant, Sally Greenhill, from The Right Solution, applauded Hull’s plans to develop a multi-functional venue for concerts and conferences, but stressed the council needed to ensure that it could meet conference needs.

“Few conferences require plenary spaces for 3,500. Instead what they require is breakout rooms, catering and exhibition space plus the support and ancillary areas to enable it to function, in addition to the plenary space. There will need to be plenty of divisibility through soundproof partitions to provide the necessary flexibility.

“Curves are not often good for a conference centre – they can be a waste of valuable floor space and while what it looks like on the outside is important in providing an icon for the city, it should be secondary its internal arrangements and whether it is fit for purpose. The exterior should not be the only focus of planning.”

Greenhill added that the city should consider carefully a great deal more than the look of the venue from the outside – the target business and what will generate economic impact for the city as well as providing an entertainment venue for the local people.

“There are many example of cities who developed concert halls and subsequently wished they had thought more carefully about conference needs,” she added, giving the example of the Waterfront Hall Belfast (which opens an extension to do exactly that in May this year) and The Sage Gateshead, which has considered many iterations to provide it with the necessary exhibition and breakout space.

“Private sector promoters and operators will almost certainly be interested in operating the [Hull] venue but are rarely contributing to development costs and may charge the city management fees,” Greenhill added.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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