Lost: a £2m music dream

STEVE DOWNES The EDP is today demanding answers about the collapse of a £2m project to build a music centre for disadvantaged Norfolk children and adults. The landmark scheme fell apart after nine years when Arts Council England decided to take back the £1.

STEVE DOWNES

The EDP is today demanding answers about the collapse of a £2m project to build a music centre for disadvantaged Norfolk children and adults.

The landmark scheme fell apart after nine years when Arts Council England decided to take back the £1.6m it had awarded to Community Music East (CME) in 1997. The funding body said various factors had caused persistent delays that undermined the viability of the project, planned initially for a disused warehouse in King Street, Norwich, then for the old studio building behind the Theatre Royal.

CME's director Ben Higham said no one was to blame and cited "a conflict of different agendas" for the delays. Now the EDP is asking a series of questions to try to secure a more comprehensive explanation of how £1.6m of badly-needed grant aid could slip through Norfolk's fingers.

The questions are being asked under the Freedom of Information Act. They are:

To Community Music East:

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1 At the time of the grant, the project was designed to meet a need in Norfolk. Is that need now being met and, if so, how?

2 What was the "conflict of agendas" that led to delays?

3 What is the timeline of the delays?

4 What caused the delays?

5 How much money has been spent and raised to support the project and fill the funding gap?

6 What will happen to that money?

To Arts Council England:

1 Why has Arts Council England waited nine years to recover the cash?

2 What are the "various factors" that delayed the building's development?

3 Can you outline how the project's costs have increased?

4 Who decided to recover the money, and why?

When the funding was announced in May, 1997, the scheme was hailed as an "Abbey Road for 1998". Within a year it was put back to an "Abbey Road for the new millennium".

The centre was expected to be a national centre of excellence that would have been used by CME to build on its work increasing opportunities for people with mental and physical disabilities, women's groups, prisoners and the unemployed.

Last night, Mr Higham said: "I don't think I'm in a position to say anything about this yet."