MP boycotts arts project launch

AN ESSEX MP has boycotted the launch of a multi-million pound arts project in his constituency because he does not want to be seen to give it his "seal of approval.

AN ESSEX MP has boycotted the launch of a multi-million pound arts project in his constituency because he does not want to be seen to give it his "seal of approval."

Liberal Democrat Bob Russell hit out at the Firstsite plan, which will bring in more than £14 million of outside investment, saying its design would not fit in with the area and would spell the end of Colchester's open-air bus station.

Mr Russell refused to attend a civic reception hosted by Colchester's Lib Dem mayor Chris Hall yesterday, during which the name of the architect appointed to build the project was announced as Rafael Vinoly.

However, dozens of other "movers and shakers" including the Lib Dem leader of the council Colin Sykes and representatives of businesses in the town, assembled to welcome the appointment, which was revealed exclusively in yesterday's EADT.

The bronze, crescent-shaped building is designed to reflect Colchester's rich heritage while also displaying a contemporary style.

It will be sited within the St Botolph's quarter of Colchester where a major regeneration "masterplan" is being drawn up, and will form part of a "heritage trail" in the town.

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But refusing the invitation to the launch, Mr Russell wrote a letter to the council saying he would be too busy with his Parliamentary duties to attend.

He added: "However, had my diary not been free I would not have accepted.

"To attend would be seen as my giving a seal of approval and endorsement for something which has been foisted on the people of Colchester without proper consultation and without the endorsement of the local population I represent."

Last night Mr Russell said he did not like the design or the choice of architect, although he welcomed the investment the project had attracted and would be happier with a different building in a different location.

"I don't think that is a design which will sit comfortably in the centre of a conservation area alongside a 2000-year-old Roman wall.

"I do not think it is an appropriate design for Britain's oldest recorded town."

He said he had conducted a poll of around 200 people of which 82 per cent indicated they did not want to see the Queens' Street bus station go.

"If that survey is being rubbished, or challenged, I am prepared to see a local referendum on the issue," he said.

Firstsite director Kath Wood said the precise location of the new gallery had still not been finalised, and it could go anywhere within the St Botolph's area.

"It's not firmly decided where it will be. It would not necessarily be on the site of the bus station," she said.

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