Bid to save museum falters

A HERITAGE group has been told its rescue plan to keep open a Suffolk museum is unviable - but it will now examine whether it can buy the building instead.

A HERITAGE group has been told its rescue plan to keep open a Suffolk museum is unviable - but it will now examine whether it can buy the building instead.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council has decided to close the Manor House Museum despite major efforts by campaigners to come up with a business plan to save it.

The museum is a Georgian mansion which houses major watch and clock collections, as well as fine and decorative art.

The council claims it would have to spend £250,000 over three years as part of a subsidy to keep it open.

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A steering group has spent the past few months looking at ways the Honey Hill-based museum's future might be secured.

But the council claims the group, which came up with five separate sets of figures, was “unable to provide a viable financial plan” to keep the Manor House building open as a museum.

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Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust chairman Martin Lightfoot, who also led the steering committee, described the council's decision as “rubbish”, accused the council of asset-stripping the town and claimed the steering group's figures were financially viable.

He also claimed the decision showed a lack of real will and commitment to keep the museum open.

The trust will now look into the possibility of buying the museum building to take over its running.

He added: “We will not stop until the museum's collections are back on display for those who live and visit the town.”

Estimates as to the market value of the Manor House plot vary from £800,000 to £1.5 million depending on its future use, and whether different uses can get planning permission.

Paul Farmer, cabinet member responsible for arts and culture, said: "We've worked in partnership with the group for several months to try and help them come up with a business plan that's viable.

“In that time the steering group has put forward five different sets of figures, with significant variations between them in areas such as income generation.

“What they all have in common is a large gap in the finances and they haven't told us how they expect to bridge that gap - it is certainly not something I believe the council tax payer should fill. When the decision was taken last December to close the Manor House, after an extensive five-month review which included input from experienced independent consultants, it was made clear right from the start that we wanted to improve our services while also saving money for our council tax payers.

“Now it's time to move forward and put into place the exciting proposals we have for our heritage services which will help us to reach much wider audiences."

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