Cost fears over cattle market plans

THE MOUNTING costs of providing a controversial public building in the heart of a redeveloped Suffolk town could reach as much as £18 million, it has been claimed.

THE MOUNTING costs of providing a controversial public building in the heart of a redeveloped Suffolk town could reach as much as £18 million, it has been claimed.

Opponents of the £85m Cattle Market scheme planned for Bury St Edmunds last night repeated their calls for the new entertainment and conference centre to be scrapped, saying masterminds behind the project may have under-estimated the expense involved.

The Group of 32, a band of residents who have long held concerns over the retail and residential development, also say the project would have a massive impact on council taxpayers, and could become another Millennium Dome by attracting insufficient audiences to support its running costs.

The warnings come a week before members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council vote on potentially increasing the budget earmarked for the venue from the £10m originally planned to £11m, with a further £1m set aside for contingencies.

“The only realistic solution is to cancel the venue,” said Anthony Platt, leader of the Group of 32, in a letter to members of the council.

“In view of the very heavy financial risks, to which you would be exposing your constituents in voting to increase the budget, I most sincerely hope you will now see it as your duty and responsibility to vote for the cancellation of this project.”

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Mr Platt said figures provided by the council, which placed inflation in the construction industry at 14.29% last year, showed the £1m contingency fund would be insufficient to meet growing costs.

He calculated that, if this level of inflation continues, the price tag attached to the venue by the time the building project is complete in 2008 could reach as much as £18m.

“The effect of that on the finances of the council, let alone the venue, would be shattering and would have a major impact on council tax,” added Mr Platt.

“Increasing the budget is clearly insufficient to see the project through to completion and will also feed a growing suspicion among the public that the council is determined to go ahead with the venue whatever it costs, in order to keep the developer happy at the expense of the borough's citizens.

“This is both very dangerous financially and likely to bring the procedures of our local government into disrepute. The only realistic solution is to cancel the venue.”

But officials from the council have previously said the venue is essential to ensure the redevelopment, which will boast new retail and residential units and a Debenhams department store, remains alive after the shops have closed.

“If Anthony Platt or anyone else wish to speculate about what is, after all, work in progress, they are of course entitled to do so, however qualified they may or may not be,” said John Griffiths, leader of the council.

“What is surely more important than any personal speculation, however, is that we are able to carefully consider the best way forward for the people of St Edmundsbury.

“This will be done with the benefit of expert advice from quantity surveyors, a strong set of design consultants who have been selected for their track record of delivering projects of a similar nature and size, and the specially appointed project manager, amongst others.

“That is the responsible way forward and exactly what the council is, and will be, doing.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work on reducing the rises in our council taxes in the future as we have successfully done in the first two years of this administration.”

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