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MARGATE GALLERY FEARS GROW

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AGENDA

Doubts about the feasibility of Snøhetta and Spence's proposed Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate just won't go away.

Rumour-mongers continue to question the practicality and expense of maintaining a building which is sat in the English Channel.

The latest worry is the paintwork. Fears are growing that the cost of stripping and repainting the pebble-shaped structure every decade or so could become astronomical.

It is a concern which has been downplayed by those working on the scheme, who claim the issue has already been addressed in both construction and financial terms.

But this is not the first controversy to hit the gallery, seen as a key part of the regeneration of the town.

When it was launched in 2001, gallery bosses estimated the project would cost just £7 million. Five years later, the expected outlay is now pushing £30 million - nearly £3 million in architects' fees alone.

And, despite continuous promises from, among others, Stephen Spence himself that it will come in on the latest budget, rumours persist that it could yet hit £40 million.

The scheme, which is due to start on site in May, is not even on the intended site. The organisers of the original architectural competition had earmarked a plot of land back from the seafront.

Following Snøhetta and Spence's win, design changes have included replacing the concrete structure with steel, and last year a test obelisk, built in the location of the proposed gallery, was washed away - costing £39,000.

Clive Hart, Labour county councillor for Margate and Cliftonville, believes the scheme should now be moved back on to the shore to make it financially viable. He says: 'I am 100 per cent behind the Turner Contemporary project as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area.

'The difficulty I have is with the siting of the building in the sea and the knock-on effect that this is having, sending costs spiralling.

'I'm worried the scheme may become so expensive that it doesn't happen - and that would be a disaster.

'Or, ' he adds, 'we could be making a building which is so expensive to maintain, that it can't be maintained - and then it would become an eyesore.'

Yet the centre's project director, Mike Evans, denies the inevitable cost of repairs will threaten the scheme. He says: 'After 15 years, the overhaul will be a pretty hefty job - and this will cost a substantial figure.

'But this work has been built into the maintenance sinking fund, which will be accrued every year over the building's lifespan.We have seen the failures of Millennium projects which only focused on the building costs and we have paid a lot of attention to the financial programme.' Evans also states that Kent County Council and the Arts Council have agreed to underwrite the project.

But one thing Evans can't guarantee against is a further increase in steel prices. If that happens, expect further hikes in costs down by the sea.

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