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Colchester MP warns of earthquake threat to Viñoly scheme

The MP for Colchester has bizarrely claimed that Rafael Viñoly's designs for a new visual arts gallery do not protect it against earthquakes.

Despite earth tremors not having occurred in the region for more than a century, Bob Russell highlighted it as a concern in a letter to the council late last week.

In the letter, dated 7 July 2005, Russell writes: 'The method proposed to enable the building to be erected, one without foundations, could set a national precedent for sites elsewhere in the country; it would also appear to be somewhat foolhardy to build such a large building without foundations when there is a relatively recent history (1884) of an earthquake in Colchester.'

Russell goes on to criticise the scheme on a number of other points. These include an alleged contravention of the council's local plan and a conflict with the monument's site, the location of an ancient monument.

Russell also claims that the proposed art gallery is not sustainable, highlighting that it will require substantial funding from the public purse every year. This will include almost £300,000 from council taxpayers, £370,000 from Arts Council East and £50,000 from the University of Essex.

Rafael Viñoly Architects London Office director Christina Seilern responded: 'Through close consultation with all statutory authorities, the design team have developed a non-intrusive flexible raft foundation design that preserves any concealed archaeology below, and respects the sensitive nature of the site. This cooperation has resulted in the recent awarding of Scheduled Ancient Monument Consent.

'In response to his concerns over the buildings' structural resilience, we would like to assure Russell that the building does have foundations, and is not at risk of collapse.

'The single-storey, steel-framed building, built off the flexible raft foundation, has been designed in accordance with all relevant British Standards.

'We hope that this puts Mr Russell MP's mind at rest. We would also like to invite him to our offices to answer his concerns with all the backing information,' she added.

by Rob Sharp

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