OPPOSITION leaders want a review of the Towngate Theatre after it cost taxpayers £747,000 to run last year.
More than £500,000 a year is also set to be spent keeping the Basildon town centre theatre open over the next four years, figures show.
On top of this, a further £600,000 will be spent on major repairs of the 1980s building, built in the 1980s.
This includes investing in a new roof and heating system, by 2016/17, accounts published by Basildon Council show.
Phil Turner, Tory council leader, played down the costs and said “in real terms” the loss-making theatre was costing taxpayers £250,000 to £300,000 to keep open.
However, a council draft budget shows in 2012/13 the total cost of running the theatre was £1.4million. After income it generated was taken into account, it left a net cost to the taxpayer of £747,000. Mr Turner said: “These figures are misleading because we can offset the fees of recharging the building to other departments within the council.
“I am assured by officers the real cost to the council is £250,000 to £300,000 a year.
“When we took over from Labour, the true net cost to the council was about £500,000, and we significantly reduced that.”
Although he would prefer to see it break even, he said £300,000 a year was worth paying to keep the theatre open.
He added: “The people of Basildon love the Towngate Theatre and we have now got a brilliant pantomime.”
However, Basildon Ukip group leader Kerry Smith claimed even £300,000 a year was too much.
He said: “When we are facing cuts and struggling to keep basic services, like keeping the place clean and tidy, we need to review to see if it could be run for to keep cheaper.
“The council needs to get to grips with this, as it is having to find £6million savings a year.
With that in mind, this could be one twelfth of what the council has to save.”
He said Ukip would not shut the theatre, but would look at ways of it making money, such as hiring it for more private functions, conferencing and opening the bar more.
He added: “We need to know what the true cost is if the budget gives one figure and the council leader another.”
Last month, the Echo revealed the council was bringing in theatre consultancy firm Charcoalblue to manage the venue while a new manager is found after a review found a series of failings.
But the authority denied it was a bid to privatise the service.
Meanwhile, the old heating systems in the Towngate will have to be replaced before the winter.
The council has hired Burgin Ltd to replace boilers and flues, at a cost of £152,000.
The current system was put in when the building was built and needs continual repair jobs.
This week it also gave a £122,000 contract to Acclaim Contractors to carry out roof replacement work.