Runnymede's Magna Carta centre 'too expensive'

Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede
Image caption The Lib-Dem opposition say the building is "too big and too expensive"

Plans for an £8m visitor centre on the site where the Magna Carta was sealed have been described as "hugely expensive" by some councillors.

The Lib Dems on Surrey County Council, which plans to contribute £5m, said it was "too big and in the wrong place".

But the Conservative county council said the project could bring "huge economic and educational benefits".

In 2015 celebrations will mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John.

'Permanent legacy'

It formed a peace treaty between the King John and barons who were in revolt and set out the principles of freedom under the law.

The Lib Dems have welcomed a decision to refer the £5m contribution back to the council's cabinet for a second look.

Party leader, Hazel Watson, said: "The building is too big, too expensive and in the wrong place.

"We support strongly that the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta should be celebrated and and that there should be a permanent legacy.

"However, £5m is a huge amount of the county's budget to spend on a plan for a building that has already been turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"Surrey's Conservative cabinet should go away, think again, and find a cheaper and more accessible alternative."

The 800th anniversary celebrations will take place in 2015.

Conservative councillor Helyn Clack, who is the cabinet member for community services at Surrey County Council, said: "This project has the potential to bring huge economic and educational benefits to Surrey."

She said a 10% increase in tourism would bring an estimated £13.5m per year into the local economy.

"Nevertheless, we are only considering these plans in principle and will only proceed if we are convinced the project has a watertight business case," she said.

A bid by Runnymede Borough Council for £3,843,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the visitor centre was turned down earlier this year.

Copies of Magna Carta, which forms part of the common law of England, are held at the British Library and at Salisbury and Lincoln cathedrals.

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