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Charity joins bid to save museum

09:11 24 May 2006

The Manor House Museum in Bury St Edmunds

The Manor House Museum in Bury St Edmunds

A CHARITY has joined the battle to save a Suffolk museum - describing plans to convert it into flats as “council-sponsored carnage”.

The Suffolk Preservation Society has severely criticised proposals by St Edmundsbury Borough Council to convert the Manor House Museum in Bury St Edmunds into luxury flats.
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A CHARITY has joined the battle to save a Suffolk museum - describing plans to convert it into flats as “council-sponsored carnage”.

The Suffolk Preservation Society has severely criticised proposals by St Edmundsbury Borough Council to convert the Manor House Museum, in Bury St Edmunds, into luxury flats after it was closed in March.

Richard Ward, director of the society, said it was crucial the site was not inappropriately developed if the group battling to save it as a museum failed.

“What is being proposed - especially the development of a new building in the grounds - is a direct violation of St Edmundsbury's own local plan,” he said.

“Officers appear to be asking elected councillors to put short-term finance before the long-term future of this unique property. This is the reverse of what a responsible planning authority should be advising.”

The popular museum, in the Great Churchyard, housed a series of collections, including some of the finest clocks and watches in the world.

Simon Pott, chairman of the Bury Society and member of the Manor House Steering Group set up to save the museum, said the society was opposed to the closure of the museum and the council's conversion plans.

Mr Pott was also critical of the council's refusal to waive “incredible levels” of rent on the building, which he said was hampering the group's plans to run the museum as a trust.

He said: “This is the finest Grade II listed Georgian house in Bury and it would be unfortunate to allow a developer to destroy its setting.

“We've worked hard with officers but we are determined to take this into the final stages by seeing if it is possible for all of the council's heritage services to be run by the group as a trust.

“This is an immensely rich council which is now saying it is in such difficulty it has to take away an important part of Bury's heritage.”

Paul Farmer, council portfolio holder for arts and culture, questioned the ability of the group to run the borough's heritage services but added they would look at proposals which benefited taxpayers.

He also ruled out reducing the money the group would have to pay to the council in rent, saying: “Taxpayers will not fill the gap in the steering group's plan.”

A council spokesman said: “In the local plan, the Manor House sits within a housing settlement boundary.

“The decision to close the museum was taken following a long-running review, which identified ways of improving our heritage services by making them more accessible to more people while also saving council tax payers' money.

“The Manor House has been used as a home for nearly three centuries and has only been a museum for 12 years.

“The planning application relating to residential use, if approved, would therefore return the building to its original use.”

The Manor House Museum steering group have been given until June 7 to find a viable plan to save the museum.

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