Leading arts venue could be sold off

By Jonathan Barnes and Andrew ClarkeONE of the region's top entertainment venues could be sold-off as part of a shake-up of a town's arts facilities, it has emerged.

By Jonathan Barnes and Andrew Clarke

ONE of the region's top entertainment venues could be sold off as part of a shake-up of a town's arts facilities, it has emerged.

The future of the Corn Exchange in Ipswich will be debated later this year, which could lead to its sale and closure.

Ipswich Borough Council's ruling Labour group has ordered a full review of its arts and entertainment provision as it plans to spend £19million on a major overhaul for the town's Regent Theatre.

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John Mowles, its arts and entertainments spokesman, said: “We have had the consultants' report about the Regent and we have asked officers to prepare a report on the implications for the council's entire arts and entertainments provision.

“One possibility is to consider the disposal of the Corn Exchange. But that isn't going to say it is being sold off - we are a long way from that.

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“The report should go before the executive committee in late March or early April, and there will be an enormous amount of discussion and consultation before any decisions are made.

“We are taking the view that we need to support arts and entertainments in Ipswich and to get the best value for money for council tax payers.”

The consultants estimated about 40% of the events currently held at the Corn Exchange could be transferred to a refurbished Regent Theatre.

The Corn Exchange is a listed building and as such could not be demolished or have major alterations.

However, the Ipswich Film Theatre, which is currently housed in the Corn Exchange, is facing an uncertain future.

Originally there were plans to move the film theatre to the new Waterfront development in custom-built premises alongside DanceEast, but Mr Mowles confirmed that option now looked unlikely because of mounting costs.

“We value the work of the film theatre - as we value all council-run leisure facilities - but it now looks as if we won't be moving the film theatre down to the dock,” he said.

“If we decide to close the Corn Exchange, then we may look again at the Waterfront development proposals. But we will also investigate other options such as relocating the film theatre elsewhere.”

Mr Mowles confirmed the hiring of a screen at the Ipswich Odeon or the UGC was an option that the council would explore, but he reiterated nothing was set in stone and these changes were part of a larger arts review.

The film theatre would not be the only casualty if the Corn Exchange was to close. Many regular events - including the Civic Concerts, annual exhibitions by the Ipswich Art Society and the Ipswich and District Photographic Club - would have to find alternative homes.

Mr Mowles said the council would be exploring the possibility of making greater use of the Wolsey Theatre for one-off events and during the summer when it was less busy.

The announcement of the possible closure of the Corn Exchange was greeted with anger by the venue's regular users.

Chris Green, chairman of Ipswich Arts Association, said: “We would fight it all the way because there are scant facilities in Ipswich for the organisations that rely on the Corn Exchange.

“There is a singular lack of investment in the Corn Exchange and this is trouble. It's death by 1,000 cuts.

“It remains a major venue and there are no other comparable venue in or around Ipswich. The nearest is Snape Maltings and that is well beyond the finances of our societies in terms of cost.”

Andrew Cann, son of former MP and council leader Jamie Cann who worked to save the Regent Theatre, added: “It would be like Ipswich losing its village hall.”

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