Arts centre will not happen

ONE of Suffolk's treasured public buildings could be sold or rented after council bosses said a plan to turn it into a £4million visual arts centre was “simply not going to happen”.

ONE of Suffolk's treasured public buildings could be sold or rented after council bosses said a plan to turn it into a £4million visual arts centre was “simply not going to happen”.

The Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery had hoped to win funding from St Edmundsbury Borough Council to move from its current home in the Market Cross to the town's landmark Corn Exchange - transforming the building in the process.

But council chiefs last night delivered a blow to the proposals and indicated the Corn Exchange would most likely be rented out for commercial use and could even be sold off when a decision is finally taken on its future in 2007.

In a report to cabinet this month the council recommends it supports the gallery in its present base - saying the public part of the Corn Exchange on the first floor would generate a higher income if used for commercial purposes.

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It said the council had already given £15,000 towards a £20,000 feasibility study into whether the move was viable. The gallery would also need to have its £36,000 annual grant from the council increased if it were able to afford the new premises.

Andrew Varley, cabinet member for arts and culture at the council, said: “As guardians of the public purse we have to balance the ambition of the Art Gallery with the aspirations of the council tax payers.

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“The remarkable designs for the Corn Exchange put forward by the gallery involved the borough council being asked for millions of pounds and this is simply not going to happen.

“We will now look at ways of working together with the gallery to secure its future in its current prestigious town centre location.”

He added that the council is currently assessing the way it manages all of its buildings in the town, including the Manor House Museum.

“We will be considering a range of options for the future of all our buildings and will look at how they can best serve the community,” he said.

Gallery director Barbara Taylor said the decision not to fund the move will disappoint a lot of people.

“We knew the chances of getting the money did not look very good but this is very frustrating,” she said.

“We feel that after spending so much time planning the move that we are now right back where we started.

“We will now work closely with the council to look at what can be done with our current building.

“There are other ways of raising funds, but the council's support is fundamental to the whole project because they own the building.”

David Rees, chairman of the Bury Society, said: “If the Corn Exchange were to be sold off for commercial use then there is the chance the overall exterior look of the building would be lost, which would be great shame.”

The Corn Exchange is used for a number of events, including performances by the Fat Cat Comedy Club.

Promoter Mark Proctor said: “We have been told we will have the use of the new public hall planned for the Cattle Market site should the Corn Exchange no longer be available, and we are very excited about the prospect of moving to a new building.”

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