AUDIENCES at York Theatre Royal have fallen by ten per cent in the wake of evening parking charges.

But theatre boss Ludo Keston is hopeful major changes could be made to the charges by November to ease the problems they are causing.

The chief executive joined other members of PLAY, the organisation representing performing and live arts organisations in York, at a private meeting about parking with council leader Steve Galloway earlier this week.

PLAY, whose members include the Grand Opera House, City Screen and Fibbers, told Coun Galloway that their organisations generated a spend of £11.4 million in the York economy, as well as generating hundreds of jobs.

PLAY said in a statement that Coun Galloway had listened "very carefully" to its concerns over the potential impact on the economy if current charges remained unchanged.

Mr Keston said the Theatre Royal's total audience in the ten weeks from the beginning of May was just under 21,500, compared to just over 23,500 in the same period next year.

He said performances were broadly similar in the two periods, and he did not believe other factors such as Euro 2004 or the weather could solely account for the drop - particularly as a significant number of letters had been received from customers expressing concern at the charges.

If the downturn were to continue over the rest of the year, it would be "very worrying" for what was a not-for-profit charity, which worked under guidelines demanding that it balanced income and expenditure.

A range of options would have to be considered, which might include raising ticket prices or cutting back on services, which the theatre had been working very hard to increase in recent years.

Coun Galloway said today that the council was consulting with various organisations which had approached the authority. He agreed the meeting with PLAY had been constructive. "One or two ideas have been taken away to be looked at," he said.

He would not go into detail at this stage, but said he expected to be able to do so in the final of a series of four articles about charges he is writing for the Evening Press.

PLAY's concerns appear to be borne out by a number of emails received by the Evening Press.

For example, Robin and Pamela Marlow, of Alne, said they no longer considered the city centre in their plans for an evening out, going for example to VUE instead of City Screen.

Lucy and Michael Mulkay, of Millington, said they were senior citizens who could no longer afford to go to see concerts or plays. "We feel this is so wrong as it is killing the theatre and cinema."

Updated: 10:21 Friday, July 16, 2004