POLL: State urged to pay art gallery tab

PRESSURE is mounting on the state government to fund the last third of the $21million Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment, with opposition leader John Robertson in town to hammer the issue yesterday.

Newcastle City Council will meet next week to decide whether the city will take the $7million shortfall required to complete the project.

The city has already contributed $7million, including from individual donations, and the federal government handed over a $7million grant last year.

Mr Robertson said the state now had to pick up the tab.

‘‘We’re continuing to see this government look at cutbacks everywhere ... this is a continuation of this government showing no regard for the arts.’’

Mr Owen, who spoke in favour of the gallery development in his maiden speech to Parliament last year, said yesterday that both he and Arts Minister George Souris supported the project.

But any state grant would have to come from the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund, which was still considering an application against dozens of other regional projects.

‘‘George [Souris] doesn’t have a back pocket with millions of funding,’’ Mr Owen said.

Mr Owen and lord mayor Jeff McCloy raised the gallery with local government minister Don Page yesterday afternoon and discussed a possible ‘‘back-up plan’’.

Mr Page said the council could apply to borrow the outstanding money from the government at a low interest rate under an infrastructure-renewal fund for local councils.

Newcastle councillor Tim Crakanthorp said the money was essential as plans for the gallery had already been slightly downgraded.

‘‘If we don’t get this money the whole project could well be downgraded to quite a minimalist redevelopment.’’

When asked if he would support the council covering the shortfall, Cr Crakanthorp said he was still hopeful the state would give the money.

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