Taxpayers face 50-year gallery bill

TAXPAYERS in Colchester face paying off the additional costs of building an over-budget art gallery for the next 50 years, the EADT can reveal.

Roddy Ashworth

TAXPAYERS in Colchester face paying off the additional costs of building an over-budget art gallery for the next 50 years, the EADT can reveal.

Colchester Borough Council is poised to agree a deal whereby it can borrow £2million to help complete the beleaguered Visual Arts Facility (VAF) in Queen Street.

But in order to minimise a potential tax bombshell for local people, it will make the repayments over five decades - and end up paying a total of around £5 million back to the lender, the Public Loan Works Board.

The move will lead to an extra annual 1.5% - around £2.50 - on Colchester's share of the council tax for every Band D property.

The VAF was originally scheduled to be built for a budget of £16.5million when work began on the gallery in June 2006.

Most Read

The project was managed by the council but most of its funding came from partner organisations Arts Council England, Essex County Council and the East of England Development Agency.

However, no fixed-price contract was ever signed with its contractors, Banner Holdings Limited, and in 2007 a dispute began after prices within the construction industry rose and technical problems were encountered.

The disagreement eventually led to work on the site stopping for more than six months and was only resolved in September.

The gallery, designed by world famous architect Rafael Vinoly, is now expected to cost £9 million more than originally intended at a total of around £25.5million.

It is also unlikely to open to the public before early 2010 - more than two years later than planned.

The council is currently negotiating with its partner funders for additional cash to help complete the project.

Yesterday Paul Smith, who became the council's resources and business portfolio holder in May after a change of political administration at the town hall, said that, after raising the money needed, far tighter financial control would be imposed on future contracts to finish the VAF.

He added that he thought it unlikely the project would be allowed to go any further over-budget.

“You can never say never, but the risk management has been significantly enhanced and I can see no reason at the moment why it would - but I cannot give a categorical assurance.

“One of the factors beyond our control would be a big change in the rate of inflation, for example, although that is unlikely.

“The shell of the building is complete and in future any deals will be fixed price with a fixed date, with penalty clauses and a signed and sealed contract.”

The proposed deal to raise the additional £2million will be debated at a full meeting of Colchester Borough Council next Thursday.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter