WEST Somerset residents are being “left out” by Somerset Council committing to its regeneration of the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, according to one local councillor.

Somerset Council announced in October 2023 that it would be putting its £30m revamp of the Octagon Theatre on hold to reassess the business case in light of high inflation and interest rates.

The theatre has been closed since April 2023, with the council voting as part of its annual budget to keep the building shut until a new business case could be agreed.

The council is now pursuing a scaled-down redevelopment costing £15m – with the running of the building passing to Yeovil Town Council once it reopens in time for the 2026 pantomime season.

But one west Somerset councillor has bemoaned the lack of investment in similar facilities in her neck of the woods, describing her residents as “a bit miffed” at the proposals.

Councillor Rosemary Woods, who represents the Watchet and Stogursey division, made her comments at a full council meeting in Bridgwater on Wednesday, May 22, where councillors voted to add the revised proposals to its capital programme.

She said: “There’s more to Somerset than south Somerset.

“A lot of money is being targeted in south Somerset, and we feel a bit miffed in west Somerset that we are being left out.”

Councillor Graham Oakes (who represents the Yeovil East division) jokingly replied: “Somerset is a wonderful part of the county and a great place to live – even Minehead.”

Under the new plans, the theatre will be refurbished at a cost of £15m – of which £10m will come from a ring-fenced grant provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

A further £3.75m will be provided by Yeovil Town Council, which agreed in principle to take over the running of the theatre as part of its annual budget setting (which also saw it take the reins at the Yeovil Country Park and the Yeovil Recreation Ground, known locally as Mudford Rec).

The remaining £1.25m will be sourced from external grants, contributions from housing developments and local fundraising.

The scaled-down project will still see a fly tower delivered, expanding the range of productions which could be staged at the venue, along with improvements to the auditorium, increased accessibility, a revamped front-of-house and catering facilities, better dressing rooms and some external landscaping.

The planned increase in capacity from 622 to 900 will not be incorporated – though a “modest” increase in capacity within the existing footprint could be achieved.

Other councillors expressed reservations about the project, arguing whether it was fair for Yeovil taxpayers to exclusively meet the cost for the ongoing maintenance of the new facility.

Councillor Sue Osborne (Ilminster) said: “Is it really fair to expect residents in the Yeovil Town Council area to cover the subsidy for a facility which serves people from a much wider area?

“It’s interesting that we can find funding for this project, but we can’t find money for keeping the toilets open at the bus station, which is something that people really want.”

The toilets and waiting room at Yeovil bus station were due to close on May 31 as a result of cuts within Somerset Council’s annual budget, with Yeovil Town Council stating it did not have the means to take on the facility.

Somerset Council announced in mid-May that the waiting room and toilets can remain open for “at least another few months” following an agreement with First Bus South West and the support of the Somerset Bus Partnership.

The council is in the process of purchasing the bus station site along with the adjoining Glovers Walk shopping centre, with a view to redeveloping the entire area within the town centre as the Yeovil Refresh regeneration programme rolls on.

Councillor Martin Wale (Chard North) said: “It’s all laid out that about the hope of £10m from the grant – but then the report meanders off about previous fundraising and the ticket levy. That’s a bit vague for me.

“The £1 per ticket levy was put on the tickets to support Westlands. The principle is fine, but I want to see the figures and facts.

“If we don’t know what funds are available and the project goes ahead under our name, we could be liable for £1.25m of risk.”

Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts, portfolio holder for communities, housing and culture, responded that the ticket levy was introduced to support both the Octagon and Westlands, not just one or the other.

She added: “This is about the principle of adding the project back into the capital programme, not about the fine details of the project which will come forward later.”

The final business case for the Octagon Theatre revamp is expected to be submitted to the DCMS by the end of the summer.

If this project fails to move forward, it will still cost up to £200,000 to return the theatre to its original condition.