Bill for town venue reaches £11million

By Liz HearnshawTHE rising costs of providing a new public venue in a town will place “a burden round the necks of taxpayers for years to come”, it has been claimed.

By Liz Hearnshaw

THE rising costs of providing a new public venue in a town will place “a burden round the necks of taxpayers for years to come”, it has been claimed.

Bosses masterminding the Cattle Market scheme in Bury St Edmunds said the cost of building the entertainment and conference centre planned for the site had risen to £11million from the £10m originally predicted.

Now members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council will be asked to earmark £11m for the project, with a further £1m budgeted for contingencies.

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Once the venue has been completed, a further £260,000 of taxpayer's money will be spent annually subsidising both the new building and the town's Athenaeum, prompting calls for the plan to be aborted.

But council officials said the rising costs, caused by an 18-month delay in starting work on the project, will also mean a better quality venue is provided - encouraging a wider diversity of events into the town and ensuring a trickle-down effect on the local economy.

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Sheila Wormleighton, vice-chairman of the council's Cattle Market redevelopment working party, said: “The role of the venue in the development is absolutely crucial.

“It ensures the site has a life both through the day and into the evening. It is part of the extension to the town centre and will be a key note building of different use which determines the character of the area.

“Our belief is that the venue will give the Cattle Market development a special feel and a sense of identity.

“A building of this sort was needed and will need subsidising. But you cannot calculate what it does for the economy of the rest of the town.

“If we do not bring people to Bury to use it, they will simply go elsewhere and the rest of the town suffers.”

Construction work is due to begin on the public building in September next year. Once complete, it is hoped a range of events will take place at the venue, which will cater for 500 people seated and 1,000 standing in the main auditorium.

But David Nettleton, leader of the Real Independent group on the council, said: “They should have pulled the plug on the venue a long time ago and still should abort it now.

“This will be a burden round the neck of the taxpayer for years to come. We agreed to the venue when we were told the maximum cost would be £10m. If they have abandoned the maximum cost once and set a new one, what is to stop them doing it again?

“This is going to be built whatever the costs. The council is only interested in getting the venue up and running as a monument to their own stupidity.”

A business plan has been drawn up for the venue, using the Corn Exchange as a model, and council bosses said extensive market research had shown demand for it.

But Susan Tamlyn, a member of the Suffolk Preservation Society and the Group of 32, which has had concerns over the scheme since it was first mooted, said many still feared it would prove unviable.

“The longer the research into uses for the public venue continues, the more exposed is the fact that it will actually be of very little use,” she said.

“We have said right from the beginning that we do not think it is necessary and we think the conversion of the Corn Exchange for around £4m would have ensured much the same facilities as is likely to be provided by the public building.

“I think the whole thing is a waste of money and always have. It is absurd to build something new and build in a subsidy from the beginning. I cannot see any future for it and cannot see what it will be used for.”

But Mrs Wormleighton said members of the council's cabinet had full confidence in the scheme.

“The message is that the cabinet has given this consideration and are keen and very prepared to move onto the next step to see this happen,” she said.

“They are convinced of the argument and see the necessity of this for the town and borough as a whole.”

The proposal to increase the money earmarked for the venue will be discussed at a meeting on Monday before it is presented to the cabinet and full council for approval.

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