Suggestions for old Towner building welcome

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In reply to Michael Loxley-Harding’s letter, (Herald readers’ letters, April 8), I would heartily agree with him concerning the distressing state of the old Towner, formally the Art Gallery and Local History Museum.

It is true that it continues to be vandalised and looks a sorry sight.

However, I must remind him that the building, after 80 years as a much-loved art gallery and home to the Towner Bequest, was sold by the Conservative-led council at public auction in July 2006, reaching a final hammer price of £950,000.

At the time, a figure of £25,000 from the sale price was ring-fenced for boundary features and this fencing should have been put in place as soon as the sale was completed, marking the boundary of the garden clearly.

However, in the 1990s, long before the sale, the Conservatives had decided not to put money into the building’s maintenance but to invest in a new art gallery.

They were only too pleased to be rid of the financial burden and grant the new owner planning permission for his development of 11 flats with car parking for seven.

By September 2009, with still no development, the place was looking very unloved with lead stolen from part of the roof, windows smashed, graffiti on the walls and other damage caused by young vandals and the weather.

Many local people felt this Grade II listed building should not be allowed to deteriorate.

So The Old Towner Project was formed and, with no political allegiance, our members include both Conservative and LibDem councillors, Nigel Waterson and Stephen Lloyd, all working together to try to preserve this gem in the Old Town Conservation Area.

It is an unfortunate state of affairs due to several factors, including a downturn in the property market, which has resulted in the present dilemma.

We cannot go back on what should have happened. We are at this moment left with a beautiful, neglected, vulnerable building now owned by a second developer, who is finding it difficult to proceed and has placed it back on the property market.

Rather than be divided and put blame where it does not belong, The Old Towner Project feel we should think positively as to what we can do to save the building.

Two property developers have tried and failed, the years are passing and the building remains vulnerable. If you have any good suggestions or would just like give your support please contact me by email at hw.oldtownerproject@tiscali.co.uk

Helen Warren

Prideaux Road