Costs shrink art gallery 

PRESSURE: Newcastle MP Tim Owen says he wants to see the gallery’s final design.  

APPROVED plans for Newcastle’s art gallery revelopment will cost more than $30million, forcing Newcastle City Council to significantly downsize the project and in turn prompting the architect to quit.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen, whose government is under pressure to provide $7million in funding for the gallery, fired back at criticism by raising concern about the cost blowout yesterday.

‘‘It irks me that I get hammered when the council doesn’t have its ducks in a line and we don’t even know what we’re spending money on,’’ Mr Owen said yesterday.

‘‘We want to see what the final design is and the final cost is.

‘‘When you build a house you don’t borrow money before you know what it’s actually going to cost you.’’

The council’s future city director Judy Jaeger said yesterday the council would proceed with a ‘‘four star’’ version of the gallery that was ‘‘not as big a build’’ and had been costed at $21.6million.

That figure included a conservative allocation for contingencies.

‘‘We will probably need to lodge a new [development application],’’ Ms Jaeger said.

The new design does not include many of the initially promised features. A 117-seat theatre for lectures and performances, a gallery board room, proposed shops along Darby Street and upgraded administration offices have all been scrapped.

Other elements, including a cafe and gallery shop, will be reduced in size.

Councillors were given this information at a November 20 briefing.

Business papers prepared for the December 4 meeting of council said the architect, Clare Design, resigned from the project ‘‘due to the down-scoping of the design as a result of the budget impositions making the design ‘untenable’ for them’’.

Councillors voted at the December 4 meeting to proceed with a project budget of $21million and to give the state government a February deadline to provide funding for the project.

An application is being considered by the state’s Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund.

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