I Just Can't Forgive Lack Of Ambition

PUBLISHED: 09:55 15 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:20 04 May 2010

I CAN forgive the district council in Ely many things, but a lack of ambition isn t one of them. Its attitude to the arts, and its role in economic development, betrays small thinking, and the result will be a city not worth the name. The recently publish

I CAN forgive the district council in Ely many things, but a lack of ambition isn't one of them. Its attitude to the arts, and its role in economic development, betrays small thinking, and the result will be a city not worth the name. The recently published MasterPlan for the city amounts to little more than a wish list with a by-pass at the top, and an arts cinema at the bottom. Just look at what has been acheived elsewhere. London's South Bank has been transformed by leisure and the arts, with economic and social development bringing thousands of jobs to what was once derelict land. Cardiff now contributes more than £1bn to the Welsh economy through its cultural programmes. In Newcastle and Gateshead, investments in art, culture, heritage and sport have attracted a further £1bn in economic activity and 24,000 jobs. The focus for this investment in Gateshead is the new riverside Sage Theatre, and the Baltic Art Gallery.

Just compare these success stories with Ely - a city with an existing world-wide reputation for its stunning cathedral, a building which in its time was a great patron of the arts, architecture, music, and much more. On our riverside the Babylon Gallery faces closure and The Maltings - given to the city as a place of "recreation, entertainment, and social intercourse" - faces an uncertain future. The council is inviting tenders for the new lease, and despite some wooly promises about saving the cinema there is - as far as I can see - no obligation on the new operators to provide anything but a private, profit-making, venture. But The Maltings is the only large public venue left in our city. We must ensure that when the bids are in the council's final decision is taken in the spirit in which the gift was made - that The Maltings should be a focus for entertainment, the arts, and leisure for all the people of Ely.

I know that Ely is one of the smallest cities in Britain. But this is an opportunity to think big. The council should state publicly, now, that it wants The Maltings to be one of the city's most important public buildings for the rest of this century. It should award the lease to the bid which best fits this ambition. It is, after all, what those who gave the building to the city all those years ago actually wanted. Who are we to discard that ideal in return for a few pennies more ?

JIM KELLY

Newnham Street

ELY

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