Work on Colchester VAF to resume

CONSTRUCTION work on Colchester's half-finished landmark art gallery - which has lain virtually untouched since January - is set to resume within weeks, the EADT can reveal.

Roddy Ashworth

CONSTRUCTION work on Colchester's half-finished landmark art gallery - which has lain virtually untouched since January - is set to resume within weeks, the EADT can reveal.

Colchester Borough Council is today poised to sign a deal that will see contractor Banner Holdings Limited return to the site of the Visual Arts Facility (VAF) following a protracted dispute.

However, the new deal struck with Banner will not include the interior fit-out of the multi-million pound structure, which will instead be simply left "water-tight and airtight."

Banner has agreed to complete work on the outside shell of the VAF by the end of May next year.

While the contractor finishes the outside of the beleaguered Queen Street gallery, Colchester Borough Council will seek to negotiate additional cash from its partner bodies to equip and furnish the currently bare concrete and metal interior of the building.

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It is hoped that by the time Banner has completed its work - which is due to start within 28 days - funding will be in place and contracts will have been signed to enable the internal fit-out to begin.

Financial disagreements all but stopped operations on the site earlier this year after unforeseen problems with its construction significantly delayed progress.

The latest deal between Colchester Borough Council and Banner has taken months to broker, with one recent crunch meeting lasting throughout the day and into the late evening.

Eventually an agreement was reached and on Friday a motorcycle courier was dispatched from Colchester to Yorkshire carrying the legal documents prepared for Banner to sign.

It had been hoped the bike could return the same day for the council to formalise the contract. But minor last minute changes to clarify the agreement delayed the courier's return. The council expects to receive and sign the papers today.

The VAF is already almost two years behind schedule and costs have soared significantly over its original £16.5 million budget.

Martin Hunt, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member with responsibility for the VAF, told the EADT: “I am delighted that after a protracted period of difficult negotiations an agreement has finally been reached on this high-profile project.”

He added that he believed agreement could be reached with partner bodies to finance the completion of the gallery, which is destined to become the new home of local visual arts organisation firstsite.

Mr Hunt, whose political administration came into power at the town hall in May, has already committed the council to a full inquiry into how the cost of the VAF spiralled so far over-budget and why the project has slipped so far behind schedule.

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