A COUNCILLOR has criticised the decision not to provide funding for the redevelopment of the former Darlington Arts Centre, saying that the Arts Council’s judgement “beggars belief”.

Nick Wallis, who holds the leisure portfolio at Darlington Borough Council, revealed his frustration that the hard work and money that had gone into submitting the bid to the Arts Council had gone to waste.

Project Vane, the scheme to redevelop the council-owned former arts centre building, in Vane Terrace, had applied to the Arts Council for a £2m grant to help create a hotel, restaurant and community arts venue.

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Graham Thrower and Andy Bottomley, the businessmen behind Project Vane, have said that although it was a blow not to receive the funding, the scheme had sourced three-quarters of its funding from the private sector and was not dependent on the grant to succeed.

Coun Wallis, who was speaking at a meeting of the full council, paid tribute to the time and effort put into the bid by the private consortium and council members and officials.

He said: “The Arts Council has become risk averse and awarded money to large, established, successful organisations that were looking to refurbish or expand, rather than support smaller, less established but innovative schemes like Project Vane.

“The Arts Council needs to look at why local authorities are putting in the money and the effort into these bids and then failing them on frankly ludicrous grounds. We need to question the competency of the organisation. The bid failed on technical grounds.

“We have always been upfront about the situation with the council owning the building and the money coming from private sources – for that to then be trotted out as the reason for failure beggars belief.”

At the time of the announcement the Arts Council said there were limited funds available in the large-scale capital programme and that there were other, stronger applications.

A spokesman for the Arts Council said the organisation was exploring other options for the project with the council.

Darlington Borough Council has previously said it will continue to work with the Arts Council to find a “positive and creative way” to secure a thriving arts scene for Darlington.

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