Council approves closure of Snibston Discovery Museum - Museums Association

Council approves closure of Snibston Discovery Museum

Friends group says decision is an "affront to local democracy"
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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.

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