£8m funding for The Public will not now be paid for by taxpayer

Funding of £8 million paid to help set up The Public arts centre will not have to be repaid to the European Commission, it was confirmed today.

£8m funding for The Public will not now be paid for by taxpayer

Commissioners have told an MEP that too much time has elapsed since the funding was awarded for it to be clawed back when the West Bromwich building is closed and turned into a sixth form college.

It had been feared that Sandwell Council taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

But confirmation that they would not emerged after independent Eurosceptic MEP Nikki Sinclaire asked a question in the Brussels Parliament about what would happen to the funding, awarded between 2003 and 2008 to the £72m West Bromwich venue.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn replied that the rules allowed money to be demanded back if the use of the building was changed within five years.

But he said: "In this case, the managing authority would not have a legal basis to request a repayment of European regional development funding as too much time has passed since the decision to award funding was taken.

"The managing authority has been and remains in contact with the local authority representatives and, given the available information, agrees with the current proposals for the project fit with the scope and criteria of the original."

Miss Sinclaire said: "I am relieved that local taxpayers will not have to foot the bill.

"This was our money in the first place that was coming back to the UK from the European Commission for this project. I would not have wanted to see it taken away again. However it does raise questions about how this money is awarded if the purpose of a building in receipt of it can be changed after just five years."

Sandwell Council leader Councillor Darren Cooper said: "We have been in regular contact with all the original funders of The Public project, to keep them up to date with our plans.

"We have been clear that in addition to becoming a sixth form college, the building would still support enterprise, business and arts.

"We are obviously pleased to note the European Commission agrees we do not have to pay back any European money, and have secured the agreement of the Department for Communities and Local Government as the managing authority on this."

Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, said: "This is welcome news for everyone who has a stake in the future of this project.

"I'm sure that Sandwell Council has provided sufficient reassurance that art will still form a component of the building in future."

Sandwell Council is set to sign a deal to let Sandwell College use the building.

It will also include arts space and a business support facility.

The deal, which will see the college and council enter into a 25-year partnership, is set to be put to Sandwell Council's cabinet of senior councillors on October 16.

The plan is expected to save taxpayers £37 million over 25 years.

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