Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Questions asked over Towner Art Gallery Trust proposals

Eastbourne's Lib-Dem run Council have been quizzed over plans to transfer the New Towner Art Gallery into a trust. At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, Chairman of Scrutiny, Cllr Patrick Warner questioned Cllr Carolyn Heaps the Cabinet Portfolio holder for Tourism about the plans.

Cllr Warner said "given this Council's poor record at managing it's property portfolio along with concerns over the original build of the new Towner Gallery and the deteriorated state of the adjacent Congress Theatre which remains covered in expensive scaffolding, can Cllr Heaps advise us what steps have been taken to ensure that the building will continue to be maintained properly and regular inspections carried out once the transfer to trust takes place". Cllr Warner also added "given the exciting plans to redevelop the Devonshire Complex and restore the Winter Gardens, can Cllr Heaps assure us that rushing ahead with moving the Towner to trust early will not make the wider complex less attractive given that it was first muted that the entire site could be managed by one trust?".

A red faced Cllr Heaps seemed unusually lost for words as first the Leader of the Council sprang to her defence, followed by the Senior Officer responsible for Tourism who admitted that further work needed to be done in this area but that it was possible the Council would retain responsibility for the buildings and that the Towner trust might be able to be rolled into a larger trust or operated as a separate entity within a larger organisation at some stage. 

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Warner said "I was not convinced that the Cabinet Member had strong grasp of her brief in this area and whilst I accept that trust status could open up opportunities for the flagship art gallery, I will be maintaining a close interest in developments both as Chairman of Scrutiny and in my role on the cross party Strategic Property Board which was tasked with restoring confidence in the management of the property portfolio following the Asset Management Fiasco that surfaced shortly after the 2011 local elections".

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