Snibston Discovery Museum is estimated to be worth more than £4.2m to the local economy

Council approves closure of Snibston Discovery Museum

Geraldine Kendall, 15.01.2015
Friends group says decision is an "affront to local democracy"
Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville is facing demolition after Leicestershire County Council approved plans to close the facility at a cabinet meeting this week.

The Conservative-run council needs to make £120m cuts by 2018 and has said that it cannot afford the museum’s £900,000-a-year running costs. It is proposing to sell the existing museum building to developers and create a smaller mining museum in the site’s adjoining colliery, which it says will save £580,000 annually. 

Earlier this month the council rejected an alternative business plan submitted by the Friends of Snibston group to run the facility through an independent trust.

“I would have loved to have been able to retain Snibston as it is,” said Richard Blunt, the council’s cabinet leader for museums.

“We’ve given the Friends ample time and information to develop their proposals over the last year but an independent assessor says that their business plan – which is now on a third version – is not financially viable.

“I’m concerned that, if we had backed the Friends’ current plans, we would be left with considerable costs and liabilities, which could lead to cuts to other services.”

But Friends of Snibston slammed the council’s decision, saying its assessment of the alternative business plan had lacked objectivity and contained “downright untruths”.

“The council has made a big deal about the flaws in our business plan, but that’s a red herring to draw attention away from their own paltry plans for the new museum,” said Friends chairman Brian Vollar.

In an open letter published this week, the Friends group said the council's proposal for a smaller museum was a "pale and hollow" alternative for which no detailed plans existed.

The letter said the existing museum had seen its visitor figures rise 15% last year and was worth more than £4.2m a year to the local economy.

Vollar described the decision to close the facility as an “affront to local democracy” and said the council had “run roughshod” over the wishes of key stakeholders and local people, almost 10,000 of whom have supported a campaign to save the museum.

“We gave it our all but as anticipated the council has now reached this outcome,” Vollar said. “There’s a great deal of outrage and it will not be forgotten when people have a chance to vote.”

Vollar confirmed that the Friends group would continue to fight against the closure and said the council’s decision-making process warranted a judicial review.

“If any application for a legal challenge is made we will be very happy to assist,” said Vollar. “By no means is this the end of the fight – it is a new chapter.”

A council spokeswoman said the museum is expected to close later this year. She said the council would undertake an audit and condition assessment of the museum’s collections, which include medieval, science, technology and fashion collections, to determine their future care.

“For collections that will not form part of the new mining museum offer, the council will seek to identify opportunities for their display in appropriate alternative locations,” the spokeswoman said.

However, plans for the smaller mining museum have also been thrown into doubt after the council admitted that it would be reviewing the proposal again following the general election.

The spokeswoman said: “The council will work up its proposals for a mining museum but will review their affordability after the general election, in the light of the comprehensive spending review.”

The council said that the existing country park and Century Theatre on the same site would be retained under its proposals.


Comments

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Anonymous
MA Member
04.02.2015, 13:14
The council still has to have a debate on Snibston but despite that has already announced the closure date of 31 July. The Friends of Snibston ( see their FB) is organising a mass rally and demonstration; worth reading FB to get links to local media and other reactions.
The councillor responsible for Snibston admitted on the radio that he didn't know the costs or what the savings would be! A campaign worth watching closely.
Anonymous
MA Member
22.01.2015, 19:28
It is interesting to see the contrast a Tory-led County Council has to heritage compared to a Labour Mayor-led authority in Leicester. The former appears to be systematically destroying heritage in rural Leicestershire, whilst the latter is investing heavily in its urban heritage to create an attractive city fit for the 21st Century – one only needs to read about the new King Richard III Visitor Centre and see all the physical changes taking place in Leicester to see that this heritage-led revival is a key plank of the Mayor’s ambition for the city.

Other places like York, Norwich and Bristol have been canny enough to recognise the economic value of putting its heritage front and centre of its economic and regeneration strategies. And lest we think its easy for urban conurbations to do this, let's consider rural Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Cornwall who also see their cultural heritage as an important part of their economic viability and the creation of thriving and viable communities.
Ian Simmons
MA Member
Science Communication Director, Centre for Life
22.01.2015, 11:17
As one of the team that set Snibston up, I am sad to see it lined up for closure. The council seem to be stacking the odds against the Friends trust proposal - reading between the lines it seems that by 'economically viable' they mean 'self supporting', which is something virtually no museum in the UK is able to do without some form of external support from councils or similar. By going to Trust status there would be an excellent chance of reducing the subsidy considerably which would be a net benefit as the area would retain the economic benefits, and they could do something to remedy the poor marketing that has always hobbled Snibston's potential as well as act more entrepreneurially to attract visitors and income, an excellent example of a very similar museum that has made a success of this model is Woodhorn in Ashington. Snibston has the space to potentially take some t major travelling exhibitions on an income split basis that could generate significant income as well - you could make things like Body Worlds work there and pull 200k+ visitors a year. We've done that with it this year in Newcastle which has neither the catchment or the transport links that Coalville does - it's about 3 hours by road from almost everywhere in England and close to major motorway intersections. There is also actually the means available to take the place some way towards achieving financial autonomy - were the trust able to retain the land that forms the event arena and associated space and sell it off for housing themselves they could potentially generate an endowment that might support autonomy, but the council are keeping the land and pocketing the development money themselves for short-term gain. Not very bright.
Anonymous
MA Member
22.01.2015, 09:46
This appalling decision to close a museum in a deprived area which seems to have been popular with local people, beneficial and enjoyable to local schools and communities, is sadly entirely in keeping with this government's policies. Only those who can afford to pay for culture are permitted to have it. Anyone else can stay in the gutter where they belong... And it sounds like patent electioneering cynicism by the council to say that they'll be building a smaller museum in its place - I wonder how many people believe that will ever actually materialise?
Paul M Camic
MA Member
Research Director, Salomons Museum
21.01.2015, 17:51
It is time to have a modest tax hike of 1%. The Conseratives are destroying the NHS, selling off cultural heritage and supporting fracking, which has a dubious environmental lineage. It is madness to close museums and demonstrates a lack of leadership and strategic thinking on the part of local councils and national government.
Anonymous
MA Member
21.01.2015, 16:31
I can only agree with the analysis offered by the other commentators and as a professional working in Scotland the cultural landscape is equally worrisome up here - Tim refers to some legislative protection that I am not aware of. The future for museums and archaeology looks very grim and yet there appears to be no institutional lead on actively campaigning to stop cuts rather than monitor their progress. There seems to be a certain amount of fatalistic sleep-walking into a cultural desert
Alistair Brown
MA Member
Policy Officer, Museums Association
26.01.2015, 11:06
On the issue of a statutory duty to provide museum services in Scotland, the legislation is vague and has been interpreted both ways:

Section 14 (1) of the Local Government and Planning Act 1982 required the then district and island councils to "ensure that there is an adequate provision of facilities for the inhabitants of their area for recreational, sporting, cultural and social activities". The term 'adequate' was not defined in the Act, and has not subsequently been defined. This duty of 'adequate provision' was transferred to the new unitary authorities under Schedule 13 of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994. The 1994 Act also confirms local authorities' power to provide grants or loans to cultural organisations based outwith their areas and to "make such contribution as will support and promote music theatre, dance, opera, visual art or other art forms and museums and galleries".
In some respects, the legislation is vague in relation to the principal statutory duties and powers, and, in particular, to 'adequate provision'. As a result, it is believed that there is variation between individual local authorities - which have interpreted it differently, in accordance with their own policy priorities and resource availability.
Tim Schadla-Hall
MA Member
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
21.01.2015, 15:07
I never thought that I would live to see a museum like Snibston closed-I was proud to be associated with the development- and all the problems that went with that process. It is a shortsighted move and I thought there was considerable merit in the Friends proposals- the economic argument about economic impact is a sound one- and Snibston provided income and identity-it looks as if one of you r corrsponents is correct - the move was long planned! he fact that here is no statutory duty to have or maintain museums in England and Wales , as opposed to Scotland, means there is even less pressure on LG to consider closures of museums as an easy way out.
Anonymous
MA Member
20.01.2015, 19:55
Taking my cue from the first commentator, I did a bit of a Google on Snibston (and would encourage others to do so) and it was very interesting, least of all because of the implications for democracy, communities, the economy, and our cultural and learning offers.

What you find is a ranking up of the heat on Snibston’s future, raising questions about this being part of a long-term plan.

In 2009, following an FOI, the Leicester Mercury revealed that Leicestershire County Council were looking at the options for the future of Snibston which included development (submitting a bid to HLF), shutting it or carrying on as before. The article begins “Documents and emails have revealed what could lie in store for a museum and country park”, and “Council sources say some members of the Conservative administration are determined to sell the museum and are ignoring the business case to keep it open.”

The Chief executive John Sinnott was quoted at the time as saying: "No decisions have been made about the future of Snibston – it's a matter for the budget process." (Leicester Mercury, 12.12.2009)

In 2011 you will see that the Council took the decision not to submit a second round multi-million pound funding application to the HLF because the deputy leader Nick Rushton said “to accept the money would be too great a risk in case the authority has to pay it back as some point” and then in the next breath Councillor Rushton said: "There is no threat to close Snibston.”

The Museums Association commented at the time, “If they were confident about the future of the museum, they would take that money. The only conceivable reason they would have to pay back the grant is if they took the money then closed the place. That is what we fear is going to happen." (Leicester Mercury, 16.12.2011)

Jump forward to September 2013, and in response to the County Council’s budget consultation exercise which proposed the reduction of Snibston, the Friends of Snibston launched a petition to save it and secured 8,000 signatures – exceeding even the Council’s own budget consultation responses. (Leicester Mercury, 14.1.2014)

In March 2014, the Council launched its own proposals to scale back Snibston and create a new mining museum in its place to save costs. The Friends of Snibston said “They are looking to strangle the golden goose by making it a smaller mining museum which will be less attractive to the visitors.” (Leicester Mercury, 27.3.2014)

Things get interesting in the summer of 2014, when the Cabinet Lead for Heritage at the County Council is accused of misleading the public about payment for a report commissioned from consultants that apparently didn’t exist and then was withdrawn “to avoid embarrassment all round”. (Leicester Mercury, 12.7.2014) Wonder what the report said that it had to be buried?

And here we are now in January 2015 just 4 short years later, with announcements about the axing of Snibston. Then in the next breath the County Council admits that it may not pursue its alternative proposal for a mining museum (Leicester Mercury, 7.1.2015), whilst attacking the Friends of Snibston attempts to find a solution. It raises the question, how far did the Council really go to find a workable solution with the Friends of Snibston?

Whilst trawling, it was also interesting to note the changing references to the costs of Snibston – in 2011, it was quoted as costing around £600K, then during 2014 it grew from £800K to £900K. Apart from the fact there doesn’t appear to be reference to the income generated from this charging facility (which attracts about 100,000 visitors per year), are these costs to be believed – in less that 12 months it grew by £100K - really? If these costs were not managed by the Council, was this an attempt to undermine the credibility of Snibston?

It would seem to suggest to any Googler that Snibston has been in the Council’s spotlight for sometime, perhaps even before 2009 - predetermination??
Anonymous
MA Member
16.01.2015, 19:21
It's worth readers looking at the Friends of Snibston face book page and the links to see how the councillors came to this irrational decision. Hats off to the Friends of Snibston for exposing the Council's lack of understanding of its more vulnerable communities. A Judicial review is needed not only to show how biased the Council's process has been, but also as a lesson to other local authorities thinking they can ride rough shod over the community, educational and economic benefits that museums like Snibston evidence.
Anonymous
MA Member
16.01.2015, 12:16
This is a bad, bad decision.

The County Council's assertion that the ongoing cost of running Snibston is £900,000pa has gone generally unchallenged and seems to assume no change at all in the provision of services.

The unwillingness of the Council to collaborate withe the Friends groups or any other organisation to establish if asset transfer or greater community involvement could reduce costs is shocking.

Coalville is one of the most economically, socially and educationally deprived area of Leicestershire. One of its wards ranks amongst the most educationally deprived in the country. To close a cultural venue with increasing visitor numbers and increasing engagement with its community is simply short-sighted.

Snibston has a proud record.

It's learning team recently won the Art Fund Prize for Learning. It attracts school visits from Leicestershire and other surrounding counties.

It's volunteering programme has engaged many people from a variety of backgrounds at cultural and environmental sites across the District, not just within the museum. The programme has supported people with learning disabilities, young people, the unemployed and more. It has had positive educational benefits and demonstrably reduced anti-social behaviour in the locality.

It's contribution to community cohesion and sense-of-place with significant events, such as the reprisal of the traditional miners gala (now run by the museum) and transport festival (to name just the large annual festivals) has increased greatly over recent years. Snibston staff offer a huge amount of support to community heritage initiatives, helping locally placed volunteers to celebrate and share the life of their community.

STEAM data suggests Snibston has an economic impact worth £4million on the town of Coalville. Local business leaders have expressed concern about the loss of trade and income into the town.

Snibston has local and national support. The consultation exercise showed that the majority of respondents disagreed with closing the museum. The local (Conservative) MP made a plea at the County Council Cabinet meeting to maintain the museum. The Secretary of State for Culture visited the site towards the end of 2014 and said he felt it should remain open.

There seems to be little logic behind this decision. It would, of course, be pure conjecture to suggest that this decision was based on personal grudges rather than sound decision making, but it seems difficult to come to any other conclusion.

A sad day, and my thoughts are with all those affected by this dreadful decision.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
21.01.2015, 10:55
Hi Anonymous. Thank you for your comment.

The STEAM figure can be found in paragraph 10.2 on page 246 of this document: http://politics.leics.gov.uk/Published/C00000135/M00004190/$$Supp8037dDocPackPublic.pdf