Towering art project

LOTTERY funding is likely to be sought for a £755,000 project to convert an historic Martello Tower at Felixstowe into an art gallery, it was revealed today.

LOTTERY funding is likely to be sought for a £755,000 project to convert an historic Martello Tower at Felixstowe into an art gallery, it was revealed today.

Council chiefs have been told that the Grants for the Arts lottery scheme could fund 90 per cent of the cost of the project - and it is hoped other organisations will also support it.

Cash from a profit-sharing agreement with developers who could be allowed to build houses around the monument could also help.

Members of Suffolk Coastal council's south seafront land task group are being asked to consider the venture next week.

There has been great controversy over the future of the Napoleonic tower on the resort's 17-acre south seafront after the £15 million-plus proposals for the site - put forward by the council and partner Bloor Homes - ignored it.

Many people believe Bloor should be paying for the refurbishment of the building as part of its provision of leisure facilities, while others are staggered that a prestigious development could be built and leave an eyesore in the middle.

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But now the council is determined to get to grips with the tower, which it describes as the development's "focal point" - especially as it is worried English Heritage could object to the homes and leisure scheme and endanger the plan.

A report to the task group, which meets on April 26, said an art gallery had been suggested as a new use for the tower, the roof of which is also used by Coastwatch as a look-out.

Consultants who have studied the tower say that an extensive programme of works will be necessary to refurbish the building and convert it to a gallery.

"Initial soundings from artists in Felixstowe suggest that there would be considerable interest in an art gallery," said assistant chief executive Bruce Laws.

"Thirty-eight people attended a meeting called by the arts development officer to gauge potential interest, and the response was unanimously positive.

"Creating a not-for-profit gallery somewhere in the town was previously raised as a local aspiration during consultation for the council's arts strategy and action plan. A core of people who attended the meeting expressed firm interest in setting up a new charitable company to operate such a gallery."

Mr Laws said that as well as exhibitions, the gallery could provide a high-profile venue for shows by the district's amateur art groups and schools, local history displays, and classes, talks, workshops and events such as readings and recitals.

Discussions have also been started with the National Trust about its possible purchase of the tower.

n What do you think of the idea to use the tower as an art gallery? Is there a better use? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

Opinion - see page 6

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