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Uncertain future for landmark

PUBLISHED: 11:15 24 November 2008 | UPDATED: 12:22 03 July 2010

IT IS one of Yarmouth's most historic buildings stirring fond seaside memories in people across the country.

But after a century of successive uses as a ballroom, concert hall, roller-skating rink, night club, beer garden and, latterly, as a family entertainment centre, a big question mark hangs over the future of the seafront Winter Gardens.

IT IS one of Yarmouth's most historic buildings stirring fond seaside memories in people across the country.

But after a century of successive uses as a ballroom, concert hall, roller-skating rink, night club, beer garden and, latterly, as a family entertainment centre, a big question mark hangs over the future of the seafront Winter Gardens.

The grade-two listed building was forced to close a month early for the season because of concerns over its structural safety, and a survey by consulting engineers Scott Wilson has now confirmed the borough council's worst fears that it needs dismantling and complete restoration off site - a similar operation to that carried out on the neighbouring Wellington Pier - at a cost of £6.5m

With no chance of securing funding on that level in the foreseeable future, the council has called in the country's top experts on cast iron structures, the Morton Partnership, to test other options that might be viable.

Tim Howard, the council's head of regeneration, said they would be looking to find a solution by Christmas in the interest of the leaseholder, Family Amusements, and out of safety considerations.

The building had been subject to an evacuation plan in certain wind speeds for five years and the most recent survey had highlighted further corrosion in cast iron segments and bolts and rot in the wooden framework holding the glass.

He said: “Option one is to see if it is possible to keep it open by continuing with running repairs. However, the council has already spent £50,000 of Heritage Lottery Fund cash on short-term repairs in the past three years and there could quickly come a point where we are throwing good money after bad.”

A second option would be to mothball the building in some way until funding became available, but that begged the questions of whether it could be done safely and whether you could stop it becoming a seafront eyesore.

Mr Howard said the third option was to look for a creative alternative solution, and discussions had already thrown up one idea of removing the glass and leaving it as a pergola as the centrepiece of a garden.

He stressed that at the root of the problems was the fact that the Winter Gardens was essentially a “giant greenhouse”.

When it was bought by the council for £1,300 in 1903 from the authorities in Torquay, and brought by barge to its new Norfolk home, it had never been envisaged it would be still standing a century later.

The council would require consent from the secretary of state through English Heritage to demolish a listed building and Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for regeneration, last night said that would be the “last resort after exhausting all other avenues”.

He said: “If we can do something for three years until funding becomes available that would be the way forward, but it is only when we receive the report from the Morton Partnership that we will know how serious the danger of collapse is.”


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