Referendum on gallery planned

A REFERENDUM about the future of Colchester's controversial art gallery is set to be held in the New Year, it has emerged.

A REFERENDUM about the future of Colchester's controversial art gallery is set to be held in the New Year, it has emerged.

Colchester Borough Council has agreed a deal to borrow £2million to complete the complete the Visual Arts Facility (VAF) off Queen Street.

The gallery is now expected to be £9million more than its original price-tag of £16.5m when it is completed and is unlikely to open to the public until 2010 - more than two years late.

The EADT revealed earlier this month how the loan will lead to an extra 1.5% - about £2.50 - on Colchester's share of the council tax for every Band D property.


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Now, Colchester borough councillor Kim Naish has revealed plans are underway to hold a referendum in the Berechurch ward to find out what people think of the VAF and of having to pay for the £2million loan.

He said although the council was not prepared to hold its own referendum on the project, other councillors within their wards could follow Berechurch's lead.

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Mr Naish, a Labour party councillor, said the plan was at an early stage but believes it was important for people to have heir say.

“Labour has always been asking for a referendum on the VAF and it has always been denied to us - when the council agreed the extra £2million some people were saying they did not know anyone in favour of the gallery whilst others were saying that was simply not the case.

“It is about time that a referendum was held on it and the only way that it will come about is if I, or someone else, does a mini-referendum in the ward to get people's opinion.”

Mr Naish said facts about the VAF and its cost would be given before people cast their votes but denied it was being carried out to get the answer the Labour party wanted to hear.

“I am happy, one way or the other, with what the answer is. I suspect the answer will be 'no' but if they come out and say 'yes' that would be excellent as we would know then for sure what people want.”

Although the referendum would have no power to alter policy on the VAF, Mr Naish said the results would help the council shape its thinking on future decisions about the gallery.

The shell of the VAF building is now complete and the council has said any future deals on the project will be fixed-price, with penalty clauses for any delays caused by contractors.

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