WYRE Forest's district council leader has pledged that a theatre/civic hall will be retained in Stourport - whether or not the existing building is bulldozed.

Councillor Stephen Clee said the Conservative-run administration was committed to maintaining such facilities in the town.

Last night's full council meeting was expected to give the go-ahead for consultants to be paid £25,000 to come up with detailed options on whether the council should operate from a single site in Kidderminster or Stourport.

Mr Clee said the current system of operating different departments from several offices throughout the district was costing taxpayers an additional £400,000 a year because of duplication of services.

He stressed that part of the consultants' brief would be that Stourport had to have a theatre/civic hall.

If the final decision was for a single administrative site to be in Kidderminster, the existing site in Stourport would be disposed of and a new building for theatre/civic hall use would be provided - possibly as part of the rebuilding of Stourport High School.

Mr Clee said the council was committed to maintaining a presence in Stourport in the form of a one-stop shop if Kidderminster was chosen as the single site and he hoped any new building for Stourport would incorporate a Tourist Information Centre.

The consultants will have a year to carry out an in-depth study and come up with options and architect drawings for the public to debate and the council to decide on. It is anticipated that a single site will be built by 2007/8.

Mr Clee said the consultants would look at a range of issues, including whether the transport infrastructure could withstand 400-plus council staff travelling from Kidderminster to an administrative centre in Stourport, where there were currently only 38 council employees.

They would also consider the cost of building a new centre on the three acres of council-owned land at Crossley Park or at Duke House in Clensmore Street.

Mr Clee said all council buildings would be valued and the unwanted sites sold off to pay for the creation of a fit-for-the-purpose building, as the council would not borrow money to pay for it.

He denied accusations from Stourport councillors, June Salter and Jill Fairbrother Millis, that the town's civic centre and hall were going to be "the sacrificial lamb."

"I'm not bothered whether the single site is in Kidderminster or Stourport. It is for the consultants to draw up the options and come up with the detailed evidence on what will be best.

"We have a duty to the taxpayers' purse and we need streamlining to make ourselves more efficient in the way we deliver services," said Mr Clee.

Mrs Salter and Mrs Fairbrother Millis, however, described the possibility of selling Stourport Civic Centre and Hall as "a crime."

In a joint statement they said: "The site and buildings must stay intact and in use until there is absolute certainty that the political will and the financial resources are in place to use that site (not elsewhere) for facilities, which, together with a state-of-the-art community theatre, will foster the economic regeneration of Stourport."

The pair said the site should not be used for housing or for "tacky leisure". Mr Clee suggested it might be used for a large high-class hotel which, he said, would bring wealth and jobs to the town.