David Lister: There's no need to make a song and dance about arts in the North

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The Independent Online

Well, it sounded good. An opera house for the North. A good old anti-elitist, anti-London gesture to bring some of the best of the Royal Opera House's London performances to Manchester, and produce some work there too. It sounded good, but it was never properly thought out.

As the angry reaction from the Lowry Centre's management shows, the North-west is not actually short of opera or dance, or opera or dance houses. It already has fine touring companies in Opera North and Ballet North, and a fine venue in the Lowry Centre.

The idea to build a new opera house in Manchester and tour Royal Opera productions there was partly the brainchild of the former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham. Indeed for Mr Burnham it was a passionate ambition. A northerner himself, he hated what he saw as the London-centric nature of the arts. There may also have been an element of giving Manchester a grand project as recompense for losing the scrapped super casino. But Mr Burnham was moved in the last reshuffle and his successor Ben Bradshaw has not yet made any noises about defending the proposed Manchester opera house.

The Lowry wants a new opera house in Manchester for music with the Lowry being the centre for dance. I'm not sure that that makes much more sense. The plain fact is that the Lowry Centre could take both Royal Opera and Royal ballet productions tomorrow. The need for a new multi-million pound opera house is far from proven.

Without Mr Burnham's personal commitment, and with the ill-thought out nature of the project now becoming public, enthusiasm both in the North-west and in London for the project will diminish. It was a grand gesture, but a clumsy one, and I suspect it will not now be built.