Anger over ‘political shenanigans’ claim in Yarmouth

York Road Drill Hall in Great Yarmouth.

York Road Drill Hall in Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A row has erupted over the reasons behind the rejection of permission for an arts group to expand.

Borough councillors in Yarmouth were asked on Tuesday to note the progress of the town's art and cultural strategy, but the discussion soon turned to the rejection of planning permission put forward by SeaChange Arts two weeks ago.

SeaChange had been hoping to get approval for the second phase of their project to establish an international creation centre at the former Drill Hall in York Road.

The organisation wanted to put vintage caravans in a barn at the site to be used for over night accommodation for visiting artists, close part of an alleyway, and use a former chip factory as a workshop for artists.

But following the rejection of the plans on July 13, Conservative council leader Graham Plant said he had received an email from SeaChange chief executive Joe Mackintosh which suggested 'political shenanigans were going on to do with SeaChange'.

This was thought to allude to the use of the Drill Hall by the organisation Hope Not Hate in the run up to the 2015 local elections.

Hope Not Hate campaigned heavily against UKIP and the accusation was the casting vote made by UKIP development control committee chairman Carl Annison was politically motivated based on that.

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But at Tuesday's policy and resources committee Cllr Annison said the planning committee hadn't discussed anything else besides the plans in front of them.

He said: 'We didn't speak about something else. As the chairman I had the casting vote and I turned it down.'

Leader of the UKIP group councillor Kay Grey said: 'Now as far as I'm aware not one party on this council can block anything. There were other councillors, Conservative councillors, who blocked it. The decision was cross party.

'You all know me and Alan [Grey] are musicians by trade, why would we want to block arts at all? It's not a case of UKIP blocking them because one leaflet goes out.'

And Labour group leader Trevor Wainwright added: 'I really hope that certain parties have not got it in for SeaChange. I hope decisions are not being made because SeaChange rented out their building to Hope Not Hate.'

But Cllr Plant also said Mr Mackintosh was concerned the rejection of the bid would be seen by funders such as Arts Council England as the borough council not supporting arts and culture in the area.

Cllr Plant added: 'We need arts and culture in this borough. We need people to understand arts and culture is our heritage.'

He said he didn't want people 'going around saying this council is blocking it. That is not the case for this council.

'It sets parties against parties. We have political differences but we don't have this type of thing.'

Speaking on Wednesday Cllr Grey added: 'What [Joe Mackintosh] is saying is quite insulting. Even the Labour ward councillor voted against it because of residents' concerns. It's totally farcical. I just feel really insulted by someone we're granting money to.'

Despite the debate at Tuesday's meeting, SeaChange communications director Darren Cross has since said: 'Seachange have, for a long time, been working with both the Borough Council and Arts Council to maximise the investment and benefit to the cultural landscape of Great Yarmouth. We're heartened by the across-the-board support, vision and strategic approach all parties are taking. There's much work to be done but the future looks bright.'

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