Anger as Corn Exchange faces dark nights

IPSWICH'S landmark Corn Exchange is set to close for five months of the year to save money, it can be revealed today.Ipswich Borough Council caused further outrage by last night agreeing to increase the hire charges for the dozens of community groups and charities that use the venue.

IPSWICH'S landmark Corn Exchange is set to close for five months of the year to save money, it can be revealed today.

Ipswich Borough Council caused further outrage by last night agreeing to increase the hire charges for the dozens of community groups and charities that use the venue.

The proposals were brought forward as a cost cutting measure due to the slump in the economy and because the popularity of other venues has meant the numbers using the Corn Exchange has decreased.

Although these recommendations were given the nod at the council's Executive meeting in February, a debate was called for and councillors met at last night'sStrategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Seven councillors on the committee agreed that the Corn Exchange will operate for two seasons, from March to June and October to December, meaning that for five months of the year, it will be shut. Hiring charges for users will also increase, and both these changes will come into force from June.

Booking charges for some voluntary groups can start at �300, however the hike in charges means it could rise to as much as �750 - a 142 per cent increase.

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The moves come as the council seeks to save �303,000. As revealed in The Evening Star in January, some job losses are also expected.

Jonathan Owen, director at Ipswich Council, said: “The new opening arrangements and charges should not lead to a further reduction in usage. Most users acknowledge the financial challenges facing the council and the need to increase charges.

“Usage has declined over a number of years. We had 98 bookings last year and only 34 were to accommodate 500 people or more which does not sound like a good use of a major facility.

“We will be having discussions with organisations that hold events when the Corn Exchange will not open, and look to hold it during the two sessions when it is open.”

Bryony Rudkin, Labour councillor, said: “If it is not being used, it is the people who are not using it that we should be speaking to. This consultation has been held fairly much behind closed doors which I think was a missed opportunity.”

Discussions with interested parties will take place for a further three weeks and the situation will also be reviewed in a year.

What do you think of these changes? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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