Hopes high for a restored Exchange

ST IVES Corn Exchange could be back in use by the public by this time next year, fully restored and refurbished. Civil engineer Michael Purchas, who owns the town s Golden Lion Hotel, believes restoration work can now be done for several hundred thousand

ST IVES' Corn Exchange could be back in use by the public by this time next year, fully restored and refurbished.

Civil engineer Michael Purchas, who owns the town's Golden Lion Hotel, believes restoration work can now be done for several hundred thousand pounds less than his original estimate of £850,000 - and even that was half the cost suggested by the town council's own consulting engineers last year.

Mr Purchas called in structural engineer Stephen Johnson, who confirmed that hugely expensive underpinning and other steelwork was unnecessary.

"There was not a hint of the problems suggested by the previous reports," he told The Hunts Post. "Not having to do that work will save several hundred thousand pounds that could be spent on better quality fixtures and fittings.

"The Corn Exchange refurbishment will go ahead, if I have anything to do with it, and it could all be completed in the latter part of next year."

Mr Purchas, who said he would be putting two or three alternative schemes to a meeting of the full town council on January 9, believes the councillors are almost all now backing his rescue plan. Six months ago, a majority voted to sell the building because the council could not afford the assumed £2million-plus cost of repairs and refurbishment.

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Even before then, the Grade II listed facade of the 1864 building is to be restored. The work, estimated to cost under £20,000, starts next week. "That suggests things are not on the back burner," Mr Purchas said.

He is convinced Mr Johnson's assessment of the work required - and not required - is accurate. "He is a structural engineer of many years experience, and he is prepared to put his reputation and his professional insurance behind it."

Councillor Doug Dew, who has been liaising with Mr Purchas on the council's behalf, said he hoped to see initial proposals from the hotelier later this week.

He said he had met Mr Johnson and would trust him with his own money, but believed the council would need the reassurance of confirmation from another engineer.

"It might now be possible to do the work for the £600,000 pot of money the council has for the Corn Exchange," he added. "I'm interested and excited about what might come forward. It should provide a good hall for the town."

Nick Dibben, co-chairman of campaigners Action Corn Exchange, said yesterday (Tuesday): "This certainly seems to move us in the right direction, and we are hoping Mr Purchas will show us his proposals in the not-too-distant future.

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