Council to spend £16m on new venue

ONE of the county's richest councils is to spend nearly half of its massive £40million reserves on creating a town centre entertainment venue to rival the best in the region.

ONE of the county's richest councils is to spend nearly half of its massive £40million reserves on creating a town centre entertainment venue to rival the best in the region.

It was feared ambitious plans for the prestigious building in Bury St Edmunds may have been scrapped following a change in St Edmundsbury Borough Council's political leadership in May.

But the leading Conservative group has now earmarked £16million for the project on the Cattle Market – nearly doubling the £9.5million originally pledged by their Labour predecessors last December.

Officials say the investment, which will drastically reduce the council's bank balance, represents a better deal for taxpayers, with the authority receiving a higher return from commercial outlets, such as coffee shops, which would share the building.

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"We are not just talking about the venue itself, but the total cost of the project," said leisure boss Steve Palframan. "It includes the commercial element that is now within the overall scheme. Officers were asked by members to find ways in which to reduce the running costs of the building, and one way to achieve that is to have these commercial units to bring in revenue.

"The building will now consist of the main hall with coffee shops and appropriate retail around it. Upper floors could also potentially be used for office space."

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At its meeting next Monday, the Cattle Market Redevelopment Working Party is being asked to recommend the go-ahead of the development, with the decision rubber-stamped by full council on September 9.

The working party report describes the public venue as "crucial" to the success of the redevelopment of the site, which has been set aside for a multi-million pound shopping complex with Debenhams as its flagship store.

The group says it would provide a "significant" architectural statement and give the entire scheme an important focus. It will also play a part in keeping the area alive during the evenings and at weekends after the shops have shut.

Detailed investigations into funding options have now shown it may be possible for the council to attract grant aid of between £5,000 and £170,000 to help with the building costs, and up to £30,000 a year towards running the venue.

"There has been a greater level of interest in sharing the public building from a range of partners, as well as commercial outlets," said a council spokesman. Andrew Varley, chairman of the working party, said the latest development was a "crucial stage" of the entire redevelopment: "Any public building must provide excellent facilities and make financial sense. We shall take a long-term view in the interests of the prosperity and quality of life of the people of St Edmundsbury."

The new building would be able to cope with events like dinner dances, which are currently held run at the Corn Exchange. If the scheme goes ahead this historic building, famous for its striking columned façade, will house the Bury Art Gallery.

Robin Burnett, chairman of the gallery, welcomed the recommendation, saying the news meant plans to transform the popular exhibition hall into a regional centre of excellence for the visual arts could be pushed ahead.

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