Art gallery would be £100m boost to town

By Roddy AshworthA COUNCIL chief executive has predicted the construction of a new art gallery will bring in more than £100million of private investment to a town.

By Roddy Ashworth

A COUNCIL chief executive has predicted the construction of a new art gallery will bring in more than £100million of private investment to a town.

Andrea Hill, outgoing Colchester Borough Council chief executive, said the Firstsite:Newsite gallery would also raise the profile of the historic town.

Mrs Hill, who is leaving her position to take up the reigns at Bedfordshire County Council, said the £100m of private sector money would be in addition to the £15m of public funding already secured for the construction of the gallery.

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The modern design of the new building, planned for the St Botolph's area of Colchester, caused controversy when it was first unveiled, with some people calling for a more traditional approach.

But Mrs Hill felt the radical design by Rafael Vinoly would bring a high standard of architecture not seen in Colchester for some years.

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“It will raise the profile of Colchester. It places the town as a potential regional centre and is delivering a quality of buildings we have not really had in the recent past,” she said.

“The Town Hall is an example of the quality of architecture Colchester used to produce - some people would say that we lost that in the 1980s.”

Mrs Hill added parts of the St Botolph's area were in great need of regeneration.

“It is boarded-up offices and a large, disused department store. There is a great deal of graffiti and people urinate around the back of the bus station,” she claimed.

Commercial interest in the St Botolph's area has increased since the art gallery scheme was announced, with House of Fraser understood to be considering the building of a flagship store on a nearby site.

Karen Ainley, president of Colchester Chamber of Commerce, said she agreed with Mrs Hill's view of the area's potential.

“I think this has to be good news for business, bringing a wealth of opportunity for Colchester,” she added.

“It will mean extra jobs, better buildings and better facilities for a run-down part of town. However, we must ensure the infrastructure is in place and that traffic issues are resolved.”

But borough councillor Julie Young, Labour's spokeswoman for regeneration, said she felt the art gallery would cost too much money to the town's taxpayers and funds should instead be directed to frontline services.

“The council should be focussing on meeting the needs of Colchester. I do not believe there is public support for the visual arts facility,” she added.

“This will cost the taxpayers of Colchester £200,000 a year to run and if the council are short of money, we shouldn't be thinking of ways to spend more.”

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