First look at huge new multi-million-pound entertainment venue for Derby


Plans for a new 3,500 capacity £45 million performance venue in Derby’s Becketwell area have been revealed by Derby City Council.

The proposed performance venue known as Becketwell Arena would replace the Assembly Rooms in the Market Place, which will be demolished in the next 18 months.

It is the latest in a series of suggestions for replacing the Assembly Rooms, which has been shut since 2014 following a fire in the plant room of the adjacent car park.

The last one was to refurbish the existing Assembly Rooms at a cost of £24 million but this fell through earlier this year because of escalating costs.

The proposed Becketwell Arena plan has been devised by the council working with St James Securities who have been working to develop the former Duckworth Square site into an area for shops, offices and apartments.



A night-time view of the Becketwell Arena in Colyear Street

The new entertainment and conference venue would be located on the site of the former Pink Coconut nightclub.

It will be a fully flexible space, capable of staging shows, comedy acts, bands and conferences, with secondary space of up to 400 capacity and is scheduled for completion in 2024.

It will offer a significantly larger a more flexible space than the city has had in the past. The Assembly Rooms held 1,700 people.

The venue is intended to appeal to a wider range of audiences in a purpose-built setting run by a nationally-respected operator.

The project will be delivered by St James Securities at a fixed priced to the council with the developer securing a national operator as tenant for at least 25 years, reducing the financial risk to the council.



Another view of the Becketwell development from the Macklin Street aspect with the performance venue and car park on the left

The operator is expected to pay at least £500,000 a year to the council, which already has £10 million set aside to build the venue and says it will undertake public sector borrowing for the remainder of the money.

It is anticipated that the venue will hold hundreds of cultural and commercial events each year offering a varied programme for local people and attract an additional quarter of a million visitors to Derby.

Over 200 new local jobs are expected to be created giving the city centre economy a significant boost. The scheme is set to generate more than £10m per year for the area and attract up to 250,000 cuctomers.



An evening shot of the main square off Victoria Street and a new office block where Duckworth Square is now- the performance venue is in the background

Councillor Matthew Homes, city council deputy leader, said: “We are working together with experienced commercial sector partners to put the best venue option on the table. This is about creating a vibrant, thriving city centre, and rejuvenating areas that have seen a decline.

“A new venue like this will significantly aid our recovery efforts and boost business confidence by creating hundreds of jobs, putting millions into the local economy, and make a big contribution to Derby’s future prosperity.”

The council says that the new venue will collaborate with and complement the activities of Derby Arena to provide the best possible events programme for Derby. The two venues will work together to ensure we can maximise the number of events that can come to Derby.



An aerial shot of the Becketwell development clearly showing the performance venue, apartments and hotel

Paul Morris, director of St James Securities, said: “We are tremendously excited to be working with Derby City Council on this ambitious scheme, which is set to bring an outstanding, modern performance venue to the city.

“We strongly believe that a new purpose-built city centre venue is the right way to deliver a new performance venue for Derby and are confident that the best location for that venue is as a key part of the Becketwell scheme.

“Once the successful operator has been selected, they will help to inform the design, capacity and layout of the building and the mix of popular and mainstream shows, performances and events.

“We have created a great scheme which will fill a significant gap in the city cultural landscape. Our flexible venue will cater for major music and comedy acts as well as a strong programme of theatre content. The conference and events centre will support the growth of the business community in the region.



A view of the car park and the arena from the Macklin Street end of the site at the top of what is now Colyear Street

“The performance venue is set to ‘turbocharge’ the entire Becketwell scheme, allowing us to bring forward a new multi-storey car park and hotel and will be key to the future reinvigoration and repositioning of Derby city centre.

“We have pulled together a very experienced team who have a long track record in delivering similar projects. The team will be led by IPW who have been involved in similar arena developments including Leeds, Hull, Swansea, Battersea, York, Glasgow, Bradford, Gateshead, Copenhagen, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.”

Time Line

The history of the Assembly Rooms so far


  1. 1977 – In the beginning



    Following a fire in 1963, Derby was without an assembly rooms of any sort until 1977 when a new brutalist style building appeared at a cost of £4 million – paid for by adding an extra penny on council tax. It was opened by the Queen Mother on November 9, 1977


  2. Who came to the venue?



    Over the years, a myriad of well-known names and faces appeared at the Assembly Rooms including Elton John, Jack Jones, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Manic Street Preachers, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. There was also an early visit from Take That in 1992


  3. 2002 – Celebrating 25 years



    On November 9, there was a free open day with tours, live music, children’s activities and lighting displays


  4. March 2014 – Fire in Assembly Rooms car park



    Around tea-time and just a couple of hours before Ballroom to Broadway with Anton Du Beke was scheduled, early patrons were forced to evacuate the premises in a hurry, leaving their belongings and unfinished meals and drinks as fire broke out shooting flames up to 40 feet into the air


  5. April 2014 – Derby City Council says Assembly Rooms will remain closed



    Initial hopes that the venue would re-open fairly quickly were dashed when the council said it would remain closed for “at least 18 months”, leading to the cancellation of dozens of shows


  6. March 2015 – No future for Assembly Rooms



    On March 5, the council finally admitted that the Assembly Rooms would never re-open


  7. November 16 – Insurance pay-out



    The council announced that it was claiming £5.5 million to cover loss of assets damaged in the fire, the cost of remedial work and financial losses from the venue’s closure. It saved money on maintenance and utility bills but lost an estimated total of £1,256,000 over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years


  8. 2017 – Derby Telegraph takes a look inside Assembly Rooms



    After requesting for almost a year a look inside the abandoned building, we were allowed in to discover that because it was untouched by fire, the building looked exactly the same as it was on the night of the blaze. Cold and empty, relatively new signage and rooms needed a good clean-out to be back to normal it seemed


  9. January 2018- Councillor Ranjit Banwait announces plan for new venue



    Following a consultation, the Labour group decided to go-ahead with a £44 million 3,000 capacity music and performance venue with a car park with council tax will be going up an extra 1% to help pay for it.

    The consultation saw the music and performance venue emerge as the favourite option of four among the 1,006 people who responded, although no one option enjoyed majority support.

    The performance venue was preferred by 43%, 28% opted for refurbishment of the current Assembly Rooms, which seated around 1,500 people, 22% favoured a lyric theatre and 7% wanted a hybrid option of the others.


  10. May 2018 – Support for refurbishment



    After Labour lost its majority in May’s local elections, the Conservatives took over with the support of Lib Dem and UKIP councillors, who announced that refurbishing the venue and getting it open as soon as possible was a priority for all of them


  11. July 2018 – Announcement that a new feasibility study will take place



    The council cabinet, headed by leader Councillor Chris Poulter, asked officers to investigate the scope and cost of renewing the Assembly Rooms and external consultancy was appointed. It took place between July and November.


  12. December 2018 – New Assembly Rooms plans revealed



    A £24 million plan to renew and enhance the building and its car park is announced ahead of seeking cabinet approval for the project – with no borrowing involved


  13. May 2019 – New designs for former Assembly Rooms revealed



    The public get the chance to comment on the refurbishment plans and also suggest a new name for the venue


  14. June 2019 – Planning application for Assembly Rooms submitted



    The plans have been lodged and the council is hoping building work will start before the end of the year


  15. November 2019 -go=ahead given



    Planning permission granted and work starts to remove asbestos from the building


  16. January 2020 – all stop

    Derby City Council announces that increased cost to at least £30 m means it is no longer viable to refurbish and pulls the plug on the current project


  17. July 2020 – is this the end?

    Derby City Council is proposing to put a new performance venue in Becketwell and demolish the 40-year-old Assembly rooms in the next 18 months

The development team at St James Securities has already had strong interest shown from six leading operators. A new large-scale venue is a key component of Derby’s masterplan for the city centre, which has been developed collaboratively between the public and private sectors.

It is envisaged that the venue will act as a catalyst for further investment into the city-centre and boost the vibrancy of the area. The leisure and retail experience will be greatly enhanced invigorating the day and night-time economies.



A daytime shot of the whole proposed Becketwell development showing the arena, hotel, office block and apartments

The new venue at Becketwell will be in addition to plans for a new public square, hotel, offices, and apartments already signed off by planners earlier this year.

Derby City Council will also kick start the process of totally re-developing the former Assembly Rooms by clearing the site and pursuing new development opportunities that will contribute to Derby’s future prosperity.

Mr Holmes said: “We intend to demolish the Assembly Rooms and we are in talks about something to succeed it on that site. But until then we will use the space created as an extension of the Market Place and hold a series of events including pop-up markets and play area.”

The council is working with partners on ideas to ensure the site can contribute to the vibrancy of the Market Place quarter to complement the current refurbishment for the historic Market Hall, the successful Quad offer and the ongoing refurbishment of the Guildhall.

Mr Holmes added: “A vibrant city centre is a key priority for the council and its partners as we look ahead to the city’s recovery from COVID-19.

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“An economic task force, made up of representatives from both public and private sectors has been formed to lead and drive forward Derby’s economic recovery from the effects of the coronavirus crisis, including a specific workstream on the city centre, which will look at the longer term impacts on the city centre.”





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