‘WE need to take action now.’

Those are the words of Tony Lynham who said he thinks Burnham and Highbridge Town Council needs to set up a taskforce to deal with the finances of The Princess Theatre and Arts Centre.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request obtained by Mr Lynham show The Princess Theatre has run up a £437,401 deficit over the last seven years, not including £12,000 in maintenance costs paid by the council.

Mr Lynham, who lives in Burnham, said he fears if finances at The Princess do not improve it will be half a million pounds in debt by the end of the financial year.

He said: “The Princess is doing very well with only three people who work full time, the rest of the people who are there are volunteers.

“If they hadn’t of been there The Princess would have sunk a few years ago.

“As a rate payer I am not happy about this but I want to keep The Princess.

“I would like to see a proper taskforce set up where two Conservative councillors and two Liberal Democrat councillors from the town council could meet with someone in the community who is good with business and finance and knows the town to discuss how to turn the deficit around.

“The person could be given a small retainer and could join the taskforce.

“The group would need to meet on a weekly basis as they will have a hard task to change The Princess’ expenditure.”

Mr Lynham said he thinks the town council should also sell its current home in Jaycroft Road and move into The Princess Theatre as it would mean the council is more accessible to the public.

He added: “The Princess is a major asset and we need to keep it. The council has employed a Business Development Officer for The Princess but they are not due to start until next month, we need to take action now.

“The first thing the council should be doing is getting a valuation on Jaycroft Road as I think they would get quite a lot for the building.

“Generally the council does a good job but this is the thorn in their side.

“If they sold Jaycroft Road they would be in the centre of town and if the police and other services joined them everything would be in one place.”

A spokesman for Burnham and Highbridge Town Council said the council is ‘committed’ to taking action to reduce operating costs of the Princess and to ‘increase its income’

The spokesman said: “The town council appreciates that there is some concern about the total running costs of the Princess Theatre & Arts Centre over the last eight years, but it is also grateful to Mr Lynham for his positive and supportive comments made in favour of this community asset in Burnham-on-Sea.

“The Princess building itself is important and steeped in local history but has required costly maintenance and modernisation over recent years.

“The council is delighted to have successfully applied to the Hinkley Point C Community Fund for an award of £163,000 to improve the toilets, seating and public areas.

“The Princess does not just operate as a theatre; it is a community facility very regularly used by twenty-one not for profit and local community groups.

“It is a venue used by support agencies to offer counselling and benefits advice and it brings the Arts to an area acknowledged by the Arts Council as being one that has the least opportunities to engage with cultural activities.

“The Princess Management Committee consists of ten town councillors who will be working closely with Beccy to bring about positive change that will benefit the Princess’ financial position and its cultural offering.”

The spokesman added that the council is ‘very excited’ to welcome their new Business Development Officer, Beccy Armoury, next month and they will be ‘exploring options’ for relocating their offices to The Princess Theatre.