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WAVE OF DISCONTENT OVER TURNER

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AGENDA

Picking through the pieces of the Turner Contemporary wreckage, it is hard to pin down when it all started to go wrong.

Last week, after nearly six years of design development, Kent County Council (KCC) 'nally decided to pull the plug on Snøhetta and Spence's ambitious proposals for a new art gallery off Margate pier.

Although there was no shortage of critics lining up to knock the sea-based scheme, the timing of the decision, blamed on ballooning costs, still came as a surprise.

It certainly shocked the project's architects, Stephen Spence and Snøhetta's Kjetil Thorsen, who remain unconvinced by the council's 'gures and rationale.

Less then four months ago, KCC had agreed to underwrite the cost of the project which, at the time, was estimated at around £29.5 million.

Then, the news broke that the council had decided to ditch the designs because the budget had spiralled up to £50 million and it needed to ensure 'the effective use of taxpayers' money'.

However, Thorsen has hit back: 'We are very surprised by the cost escalation of the building and cannot equate this with the reality of the situation.' The Norwegian is pointing his finger at the procurement process and the council's inability to find a commercially competitive construction company. He feels the project deserves one last chance.

He adds: '[We] can only regret that KCC has rejected our proposal to repackage and retender the project for the optimisation of cost.' Spence, on the other hand, believes the issue about recent cost increases is a clever smokescreen for local political manoeuvres. The architect says he has not worked on the designs since September 2004, and that KCC's decision was made before he even had time to look at the 'nal drawings from Nuttalls - the designand-build contractor.

What does seem unusual is that Hythe-based practice CTM was asked to draw up a new masterplan for the area - including resiting the centre on land - two weeks before the official decision to drop the existing designs was made.

Meanwhile, the £6.5 million of public cash which had already been spent on the proposed centre will now sink without a trace.

Throughout the whole process - from the moment Snøhetta and Spence won the original architectural competition by ignoring the brief for a land-based structure - the question has always been whether the scheme could be constructed in the unforgiving English Channel.

Maybe if more people had actually asked whether Turner Contemporary should be built in the sea, then perhaps the huge 'asco; the wasted time; and the millions of pounds worth of unnecessary costs could have been avoided.

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