Council borrows £2m to bail out gallery

A COUNCIL has agreed to take out a 50-year, £2million loan to finish a beleaguered art gallery - but only if its partners in the project stump up cash as well.

A COUNCIL has agreed to take out a 50-year, £2million loan to finish a beleaguered art gallery - but only if its partners in the project stump up cash as well.

Colchester Borough Council (CBC) has decided to borrow the money so it can complete the unfinished Visual Arts Facility (VAF) off Queen Street, which is now expected to cost as much as £9million more than its original price-tag of £16.5 million.

But as part of the deal it also wants Essex County Council (ECC) and the Arts Council of England (ACE) - two of the original funding bodies for the project - to each pay out the same amount.

The building originally went over budget last year when an initial rescue package was put together. But since then costs have spiralled further and now it could cost up to £7.2million more.

Martin Hunt, the councillor who took charge of the VAF project when the political administration at the town hall changed in May, said he hoped the controversial building could be completed for around £6million.

But if the actual costs do go over that figure, he said the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) - which has already paid £5.5 million towards the VAF - would be asked to fund the rest.

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CBC has already arranged a deal with contractors Banner Holdings Limited to finish the exterior of the building - designed by world-famous architect Rafael Vinoly - and make it water-tight and airtight by May.

Mr Hunt said yesterday that he hoped a separate deal, to equip the inside of the VAF with ceilings, toilets and other fittings, would be in place by the time the exterior was finished.

“The outer shell will be finished by May 22 at the latest,” he said yesterday.

“My aim would be that we would get the interior of the building underway before that date arrives, or at the very least we want a seamless handover so there is no gap.

“Everybody agrees that this building now really has to be finished, for the benefit of all the people of Colchester.

“It is primarily for local people, just as the Community Stadium is a facility for local people.”

There is still no definite date for the opening of the VAF, which is destined to become the home of arts organisation firstsite.

However the council believes it is highly unlikely to be open to members of the public before spring 2010 - more than two years later than planned.

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