MP's earthquake warning to town

By Roddy Ashworth and Ted JeoryAN MP opposed to a plan for a visual arts gallery has warned the £16million project could be at danger - from an earthquake.

By Roddy Ashworth and Ted Jeory

AN MP opposed to a plan for a visual arts gallery has warned the £16million project could be at danger - from an earthquake.

Bob Russell feared the unusual structure of the proposed gallery for Colchester, designed by world-renowned architect Rafael Vinoly, made it vulnerable to a future seismic catastrophe.

The gallery would be built on a raft instead of conventional foundations to protect the ground below, which is designated a scheduled ancient monument by English Heritage because of its historic location in the former Roman town.

Pointing out there was a freak earthquake in Colchester in 1884, Mr Russell said it as “somewhat foolhardy” to construct a building without foundations near a potential natural disaster area.

Mr Russell has vociferously criticised the plan for the gallery - which would be largely funded by regional and national bodies - and outlined his views in a six-page letter hand-delivered to Colchester Borough Council.

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Although he claimed his letter would be a “waste of time” because councillors had shown a “total disregard” to those opposed to the project, the Colchester MP felt he was honour-bound to speak on behalf of residents.

He said the gallery would not only require substantial public subsidies to operate and mean the town's bus station moving to a new site, but warned it had also been designed without proper regard to one of the most cataclysmic events in Colchester's history.

“It would appear to be somewhat foolhardy to build such a large building without foundations when there is a relatively recent history (1884) of an earthquake in Colchester,” wrote Mr Russell.

The April 1884 earthquake destroyed a large number of buildings, including churches, in and around Colchester.

Christina Seilern, project director for Rafael Vinoly Architects, said it was puzzled by Mr Russell's remarks.

“We would be happy to take him through the technical specifications of the building and the surveys of the site - both of which have been through a rigorous process of independent evaluation,” she added.

“The single-storey steel framed building is built off a flexible raft foundation, which takes into account the sensitive nature of the site.

“The building's foundations and superstructure have been designed in accordance with all relevant British standards. We hope that this would put Mr Russell's mind at rest.”

John Jowers, council leader, said he was “surprised” by Mr Russell's concerns and added: “Whatever next? What on earth can he come up with now?

“Are we going to have to worry about some great volcano of Essex which has lain dormant for 30,000,000 years, but might suddenly erupt?”

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