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How to stop the rot at the Winter Gardens - flat-pack it?

PUBLISHED: 10:35 14 December 2012

Winter Gardens

Winter Gardens

Archant © 2009

The Winter Gardens could be taken down and stored in a field like a giant flat pack, under proposals for the historic landmark.

Focus has switched to the iconic seafront structure, built in 1904, since work to restore the £7.5m St George’s Chapel has finished.

Officers say it will be “the next flagship project”, and have ruled out demolition as it is Grade II star listed.

Even if councillors wished it to be pulled down they could not, as English Heritage have made it clear that they want it preserved.

A full list of options is being drawn up - including pursuing grant money to make it a “mini Eden Project” - but among the possibilities is to place the Winter Gardens in storage.

Trevor Wainwright, council leader, said: “We could take it down but not knock it down.

“We would have to put it in storage, we would have to find a field.

“It’s a big piece of land in the middle of Yarmouth and the building’s just sat there derelict and the council has no money to do it up themselves.”

He added councillors will be looking at all options, but could foresee problems with storage.

The Winter Gardens “would rot away eventually” if stowed away, he suggested, and it would not be much cheaper than restoring it.

A complete rebuild is estimated to cost £6m, with repair work £2m and dismantling work “hundreds of thousands of pounds”.

“We are out looking at possible options to bring it back into life,” added Mr Wainwright. “Even if we got a grant we would need an end user to make it viable.”

Structural engineers surveyed the Winter Gardens a year ago to assess how much it would cost to breath new life into it.

For the glass and metal structure has been closed since 2008 due to fears over falling glass injuring pedestrians.

Borough conservation officer Darren Barker said cash which could have been used for the Winter Gardens was ploughed into St George’s, but it has never been a case of “one or the other”.

“We’ve always wanted to get St George’s sorted out as that was the priority that was at risk of collapse and was Grade I listed,” he explained. “The Winter Gardens is the next flagship project.

“We will be devoting a lot more time to it now.”

The Winter Gardens has had a variety of uses over the years, including a concert venue and roller skating rink.

It came to the borough after the Yarmouth Corporation bought it for £1,300 from Torquay.

Officers are consulting with a range of other winter gardens around the country and have been on fact-finding trips to learn what the most successful uses are.

“Because it’s such a tricky building and there are so few winter gardens left - they overheat in summer and over cold in winter - uses are limited,” explained Mr Barker.

But he added it is a “fantastic” part of the town’s heritage, and officers are determined to find a use that will generate enough money for it to be “sustainable and viable”.

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