Question mark hangs over new arts centre

PLANS to transform a gallery into a regional centre of excellence for the visual arts could be in jeopardy if proposals for a town centre entertainment venue are scrapped.

PLANS to transform a gallery into a regional centre of excellence for the visual arts could be in jeopardy if proposals for a town centre entertainment venue are scrapped.

Barbara Taylor, director of the Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, yesterday admitted there is no 'plan B' for the exhibition centre if a potential move to the Corn Exchange is ditched by councillors later this year.

The relocation, which would see the gallery leave its current home in the Market Cross, Cornhill, is dependent on the go-ahead of a new public building, earmarked for the Cattle Market redevelopment.

Plans for the venue, to act as a concert hall and entertainment centre, were made by St Edmundsbury Borough Council's Labour-led coalition administration last year, but could be scrapped by Conservative members, if the finances do not stack up.

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"We have no plan B," said Mrs Taylor, who must find alternative accommodation, or make extensive changes to the first-floor gallery before new disability legislation is introduced next year.

"When we responded to the Cattle Market consultation, we suggested building a new home for the art gallery with the redevelopment. It has not been included, so in a way, we have already reached plan B with the Corn Exchange.

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"To be realistic, there are not really that many other potential options available in the centre of Bury St Edmunds. We have been looking for an alternative for five or six years."

Former council leader Ray Nowak, who masterminded the scheme for a public building and earmarked £9million for the project, warned scrapping the venue could have a wider affect than on the gallery alone.

He said: "Removing the venue from the Cattle Market redevelopment would have a real impact. It would make the completed site into nothing more than just another shopping mall, like any other shopping mall in any other town.

"It is also possible that more low key branches could end up on the site as a result – in the past, the developers have been quite excited by the idea of the venue, as it meant we could attract quality names to Bury."

Already 96 architects have submitted applications, bidding for a contract to transform the Corn Exchange, and gallery officials have so far short-listed six.

"The Corn Exchange has great potential and is a very handsome building, but it could do with some improvements," added Mrs Taylor.

"We want to make it into a really vibrant centre which people can use as a meeting place as well as a gallery, with a coffee bar or brasserie.

But members of the leading Conservative group on St Edmundsbury have insisted a decision on the venue has yet to be made and promised firmer plans will be in place by the autumn.

"Obviously there is a lot more information needed regarding the public building," said council leader John Griffiths.

"The Cattle Market Redevelopment Working Group will be studying very carefully this information as it becomes available, with a view to making recommendations by September."

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