Surrey withdraws £5m offer to Runnymede Magna Carta plan

Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede Surrey County Council said it was not sure the site was right or that the centre would open in time

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A £5m contribution to the building of a visitor centre in Surrey on the site where the Magna Carta was sealed has been withdrawn by the county council.

The Conservative-run council (SCC) said it was not sure the centre near Runnymede Meadows, Egham, would open by 2015 to mark Magna Carta's 800th year.

The Liberal Democrat group said the contribution had been "little more than a vanity project" for the Tory group.

Runnymede council, which put the plans forward, said it understood.

'Pig in a poke'

County councillor Helyn Clack, Surrey's cabinet member for community services, said the centre had been a good idea in principle but added: "We always said we would support the project only if we were convinced there was a watertight business case."

She said the county council was still determined to celebrate the landmark date in style and ensure Surrey received the maximum benefit from it.

Liberal Democrat councillor John Orrick claimed the £5m contribution would have been the equivalent of 1% on council tax and said he believed the county council had been sold "a pig in a poke" by Runnymede.

He said: "Many Surrey residents who would have got no benefit from the centre would have had to dig deep in their pockets to pay for what amounted to little more than a vanity project by the Conservatives at County Hall."

What is the Magna Carta?

  • The Magna Carta outlined basic rights with the principle that no one was above the law, including the king
  • It charted the right to a fair trial, and limits on taxation without representation
  • It inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The British Library has two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta

Source: The British Library

Runnymede council's chief executive Paul Turrell said both councils had worked collaboratively to try to meet the cost and believed the centre would provide a legacy.

He said Runnymede council remained convinced the centre would be a highly valuable resource but time was running out.

"We need to decide whether to continue to pursue funding in the knowledge that we will need sponsors identified and committed to the project by early summer or whether to concentrate solely on the celebrations," he said.

Councillors would discuss this at the end of January, he added.

Mr Turrell said: "We understand their [SCC's] position and we both share a responsibility to guard taxpayers' money.

"Equally, we share a vision that Magna Carta should be remembered and understood widely in this country and on the international stage."

The loss of the £5m contribution is the second funding setback faced by Runnymede council.

Last year, Runnymede council applied for £3,843,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund but the bid failed.

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