THE show will go on at Weymouth Pavilion after councillors unanimously agreed to hand it over to the community to run.

The decision came following passionate speeches and a long debate at the full meeting of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council last night.

The move saves the theatre from demolition and means a tender process can get underway in order for the venue to be leased.

It opens the door for Weymouth businessman Phil Say to take the venue off the council's hands.

He has been waiting in the wings to operate it as a not-for-profit community interest company supported by volunteers.

Exactly when the community can take it over was a source of debate at the meeting.

The Pavilion will close at the end of May and Mr Say wants to take it over and reopen it as soon as possible after that, but the tendering process could delay its reopening.

Concern was expressed at the meeting that the Pavilion could be closed for a lengthy period during the summer months before the handover is complete.

Attempts by Coun Ian Roebuck for the tender process to be speeded up were lost, as was a move by Coun Ray Banham to keep the Pavilion open until September.

Councillors were assured that work was underway now on the tender process.

More than 100 people turned up to hear the debate, which was switched from the usual meeting venue of the Guildhall to the Pavilion Ocean Room so everyone could be accommodated.

Mr Say told councillors: "The Pavilion is very important to everyone in Weymouth.

“It’s held very dear by visitors and residents.

"A large section of the community support the plan to run the Pavilion as a community company for the community.

"With your support we can create a vibrant centre for the arts.

“Please give the community a chance."

Cathy Page-Nash, from the Friends of the Pavilion, which supports Mr Say's proposal, said she had a list of 5,000 names of people who wanted to help the Pavilion in some way, either through volunteering, becoming patrons or sponsoring seats.

Hon Alderman Peter Rendall urged the council to ‘get the wheels in motion’ now so the deal can be finalised and there is a ‘smooth transition’ so the Pavilion is open for the summer season.

"The show has to go on," he added.

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