Wednesday, November 25, 2015

News: Magna looks to future

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Rotherham Council is looking to restructure the debt currently owed by the operators of Magna Science Adventure Centre.

Set in the former Templeborough steelworks, Magna is a family attraction with more than 100 hands-on exhibits. Millions of pounds have been invested in conference facilities at the centre which is operated by a charity, the Magna Trust.

In January, Rotherham Council's interim chief executive approved an immediate £100,000 loan after the Magna Trust identified a potential cash shortfall. The council's then cabinet were subsequently asked to approve a new loan facility of up to £250,000 to start on April 1 2015, taking the total available for the year to £350,000.

The decision was deferred pending an independent consultant being appointed to undertake a review of Magna's business, to help to strengthen the Magna business plan and to assess future viability.

With the review undertaken, the Council is putting forward a proposal that will mean no new money for the tourist attraction, but will enable Magna to pay back its current debt over a period of years.

Magna has outstanding loans to the Council of £440,000. This is made up of a £190,000 long term loan which is secured against a building and a £250,000 short term loan which has previously had to be renewed annually.

A proposal, to be agreed at a full council meeting next month, will mean a structured repayment plan on the combined loans over a period of ten to 15 years, with flexibility around earlier repayments.

Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, said: "None of us wants to see Magna close its doors. Such a closure would see as many as eighty people lose their jobs, the Council would inevitably have to write off hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt currently owed by Magna, and in all likelihood we would be left with the costs of maintaining the former industrial site.

"But – as I have said before – neither can we afford to see more and more public money going into Magna. By working with the trustees to restructure the Council's debts and make repayment manageable, we will keep this popular visitor attraction open and maximise the opportunity for the taxpayer to see the loans returned to the Council."

John Silker, chief executive of Magna Trust, said: "The future of Magna is looking bright. Our event bookings are up by 14% this year and are on target to top £1m. We get bookings from all over the country. For example we recently hosted conferences for Wickes and Volkswagen.

"Our visitor numbers are holding steady and each year we host about 30,000 school children on educational visits.

"Since I took over in 2013 the plan has been to cut the need to borrow money and we are confident that we will be in a position to stand on our own two feet going forward.

"We very much appreciate the ongoing support of Rotherham Council and we continue to work closely with them as we move in to an exciting future.

"We have several projects in the pipeline, to continue to develop Magna as landmark venue; create jobs and bring investment into the area. For example we have been talking to hotel developers about possible development on the site.

"What many people don’t realise is that, unlike many other attractions, galleries and museums, we do not receive grants which we can keep. Instead we pay back money we borrow at commercial rates of interest and we will continue to pay that money back to Rotherham Council.

"As a giant former steelworks Magna is a true cathedral to industry and an important part of the region's industrial heritage."

One issue for the Council is the fact that the loans are secured only against the offices fronting Sheffield Road, which are not worth as much as they once were. The issue of leases and a inter-creditor deed is also complex. Parties on the deed include the Big Lottery, the Government, Yorkshire Forward, Lombard Property Facilities Limited, and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Council, which has identified the need to save £41m from its budget over the next three years, is one of three members of the Magna Trust, together with the Rotherham Chamber of Commerce and The Stadium Group, the developers of Meadowhall and Parkgate Shopping, brought in at the start to add weight to the Millennium Project.

Magna website

Images: Magna

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