Gallery chiefs make corn exchange plea

BOSSES at a prized Suffolk art gallery have appealed to council chiefs to reconsider their bid to move into one of the county's most treasured historic buildings.

BOSSES at a prized Suffolk art gallery have appealed to council chiefs to reconsider their bid to move into one of the county's most treasured historic buildings.

Officials from the Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery last night called on planners to return to the discussion table after St Edmundsbury Borough Council revealed a new use would be sought for the town's Corn Exchange once the venue on the Cattle Market is complete.

The calls come a year after an ambitious £4m bid to transfer the exhibition centre from its current home in the Market Cross to the Grade II listed town centre building was rejected as a result of the cost to taxpayers.

But Alison Plumridge, gallery director, said a high quality facility could still be produced - with a lesser price tag attached - which would contribute to the town's economy by drawing in extra tourists.

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"I think the Corn Exchange is a stunning building and has a huge amount of potential to be restored to its former glory," she said.

"It would be great for the building to remain open to the public and to be a centre-piece for the town, and it has the capacity to bring in tourists in even greater numbers than it does today.

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"The Art Gallery's current exhibition has brought in people from as far afield as Birmingham. If we were in a bigger site we would have the ability to do that very regularly, and we would certainly be a major contributor to the economy of the town and to its cultural provision."

The earlier scheme proposed for the Corn Exchange involved creating a visual arts centre of excellence, and won wide approval from architectural watchdogs.

However, Miss Plumridge said any future proposal could still be ambitious and of high quality, but could be achieved at a lesser cost to the council.

"There are other ways the project could be looked at which perhaps would not need as greater commitment from the borough council," she added.

"I have not been told the door is closed. There are lots of grant-awarding bodies we could look at, possibly together, so that the money would not have to come from the local residents.

"I would still want to be ambitious. Bury deserves a really great cultural centre, it is right in the heart of the Eastern region and has good road links and improving rail links. We are in a really good position to bring people in."

Bosses at the Art Gallery have recently won a grant from the council to provide lifts to improve disabled access, and work is expected to take place early next year.

"We are now looking at how we can make better use of the space here," said Miss Plumridge. "If I can get the funding together, I am reasonably confident we can really improve the facilities, then if we moved in the long term to a bigger site, we would be able to take these fittings with us."

Members of the council decided the Corn Exchange would no longer be needed as a public building after plans for the £11m venue on the Cattle Market site were firmed up.

Events currently held in the property, which was built in 1861, will be transferred to this venue once construction work is complete.

Officials from the council, which will retain the freehold on the Corn Exchange, are now looking at alternative uses for the building, and intend to consult with organisations such as English Heritage before winning a variety of planning consents for its upper floors.

These permissions could cover a range of uses from retail, office, food and residential to leisure.

A spokesman said: "An asset management report has been approved by the council which states that the Corn Exchange will no longer be needed as an operational building when the new venue opens.

"Any options for its future need to take into account the council's duty to get the best value from its non-operational buildings, so any option would need to take account of the benefit to the council taxpayer a commercial lease would bring."

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