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Independent councillor Aln Ryves slams West Norfolk Council over funding plans for Guildhall theatre project in King's Lynn

An Independent has slammed the borough council for its handling of the Guildhall project in Lynn.

Plans to revive the St George’s Guildhall theatre were hindered by an unsuccessful funding bid, with the National Lottery Heritage Fund turning down West Norfolk Council's original bid for £575,000.

This could have risen to a total of £3.3million, but the council and the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board have insisted it remains confident that plans to revive the venue remain intact.

Concerns have been raised over the St George's Guildhall project in Lynn
Concerns have been raised over the St George's Guildhall project in Lynn

However, Alun Ryves - an Independent borough councillor - has slammed the council’s plans. He fears the funding rejection will be more damaging than made out, and is worried about ‘sugar coating’ the failure.

The St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub project was first unveiled in March of this year, aiming to revive Britain’s oldest oldest working theatre and turn it into a site for creative groups.

The Lottery Fund rejected the bid because it was ‘considered ambitious and high risk, particularly in terms of sustainability’ - and Cllr Ryves is concerned further costs, which the council will provide itself, will be passed onto the taxpayer.

He said: “This failure throws the whole Town Plan into disarray, as the regeneration of the Guildhall was the flagship project for the drive to revitalise King’s Lynn.”

Asked whether the bid’s failure would mean higher council tax for residents, a council spokeswoman said: “There is currently no plan and no scope to increase council tax as a result of the NLHF decision.”

On whether a failure to receive alternative sources of funding could potentially result in debt needing to be paid back through borrowing, they admitted that there was a possibility that the sum would need to be accounted for by council tax.

However, they added that any impact would be minimal as the cost could be spread out over 30 years.

The shortfall accounts for about a quarter of the project’s cost – with the remaining three quarters mainly to be funded from Lynn’s £25m Town Deal pot of Government cash.

Councillors insist this funding is set in stone and cannot be withdrawn.

Ivor Rowlands, chair of the soon-to-close Shakespeare Guildhall Trust, said: “The NLHF are the country’s pre-eminent supporter of heritage projects – they don’t think the council’s plans represent satisfactory risk against sustainability to support.

“Yet despite that, the council is continuing to pursue to spend this money.

“It represents a kind of madness and a cavalier approach to spending public money.”

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