Contingency plan if art gallery fails

By Roddy AshworthA COUNCIL has agreed to identify a possible alternative use for a proposed £16.5million building in case it proves a failure as an art gallery.

By Roddy Ashworth

A COUNCIL has agreed to identify a possible alternative use for a proposed £16.5million building in case it proves a failure as an art gallery.

The move came after a team of consultants examined the plan for a visual arts gallery in Colchester, which has already attracted large grants from funding bodies for its construction.

But despite the consultants' agreement that the project was in a healthy state and should proceed, they have recommended Colchester Borough Council should find another viable use for the building should it not succeed as an art gallery.

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The council has agreed to come up with an alternative role by December, when the consultants will again scrutinise its proposal.

It has also agreed to come up with a contingency plan should the council lose its anticipated annual grants from external organisations.

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The building, designed by world-renowned architect Rafael Vinoly, is a central part of a £250 million regeneration of the St Botolph's area of Colchester.

But critics of the scheme to build the gallery have questioned whether it would prove financially viable.

Robert Davidson, council cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, said he was determined that even if the arts project did not succeed, no financial burden would fall on the council tax payer.

“I am very confident it will not fail as its business viability has been rigorously tested. It would still be a striking, iconic building and it could generate an income of its own,” he said.

“We will strive to make good use of the building and make sure that the cost of running it does not impact on the tax payer.”

He dismissed fears from Labour councillor Richard Bourne that the public bodies funding the construction of the building - including the Arts Council and the East of England Development Agency - might want their money back if it changed its use.

“The parties are committed to funding the annual revenue costs for the period during which they could reclaim the start-up costs,” said Mr Davidson.

But Mr Bourne said: “It is important they give serious thought to this now in their business planning. I am not convinced there are a significant range of options they could use that building for.

“This is one of our concerns - we believe there should be more thought and more examination of the risk and how it is managed, rather than just the building's design and appearance.

“We think the tax payer in Colchester could be exposed if the building doesn't do as well as a community space as they think it will.”

David Grocott, marketing officer for firstsite, which is due to be based in the gallery, said: “From the outset the building has always been seen as a flexible cultural leisure facility for Colchester.

“Obviously the rigorously-tested business plan is for a visual arts complex with cinema and auditorium and classrooms for school groups set in a new park for the town.

“We are confident this very cautious business plan proves this will work. but the building can be put to other uses for the town if needs be. Although there are no specifics, it could be a museum, a gallery or a library or indeed almost anything cultural.”

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