Southend council scraps seafront museum due to rising costs

Council to consider alternative site for building
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Plans for a cliffside museum overlooking Southend’s seafront have been shelved after the estimated costs rose from £40m to £55m.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has ordered a rethink on its longheld ambition to build a regional museum, provisionally called the Thames Estuary Experience, after an independent review found that the planned building would not be fit for purpose without a significant cash injection.  

The museum was intended to house significant regional finds, including the shipwreck of HMS London, the 1600s ship recovered from the Thames Estuary in 2005, and artefacts from the Royal Saxon tomb of the “Prittlewell Prince”, unearthed in 2004.

The council has already spent £1.5m on the museum’s development, according to local press. Work has been carried out to stabilise the cliff-side site, and revised building designs were due to conclude by the end of this year.
The building had been designed by AEW Architects and also included an underground carpark, which was intended to raise revenue for the museum.
“A state-of-the-art visitor attraction of this nature would be an amazing opportunity for Southend,” said Lesley Salter, the council’s cabinet member for culture.

“However, the council has been very clear from the outset that any funding would have to be raised by a board of trustees and would not be met by council taxpayers.
“The £40m was an ambitious task. For this figure to rise to £55m before a single brick has been laid is an unpleasant but necessary wake-up call. It demonstrated to us that we just cannot justify proceeding with this particular plan.
“Our aspiration to provide a world-class museum in the town, showcasing the Thames Estuary’s rich heritage and contribution to the history of Britain, remains unaltered. But not in this location and not with this price tag.”

Councillors are now considering alternative sites for the museum. The cabinet member for growth, James Courtenay, said: “The proposed site on the cliffs has been around for a while now, but times have changed and so have the town’s priorities.
“Personally, I would like to see the museum form part of the regeneration of our High Street, which is going to have to become a lot more mixed-use in future, rather than being so strongly dominated by retail, which is increasingly becoming an online sector.”

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