Council set to sell historic museum

CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight plans by one of Suffolk's richest councils to “sell off the family silver” after officials revealed a historic museum would be placed on the market - and jobs lost in the process.

CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight plans by one of Suffolk's richest councils to “sell off the family silver” after officials revealed a historic museum would be placed on the market - and jobs lost in the process.

The much-loved Grade I listed Manor House, which sits in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, will be shut by the end of March and “disposed of” by October as part of proposals by St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

The news means the treasure house will be the second historic building owned by the authority to be closed to the public, after officials announced earlier this year that the Corn Exchange would be leased out for commercial use once the new entertainments venue on the Cattle Market is opened.

Speaking yesterday, officials from the council said the Manor House would be marketed at an estimated £885,000 and its exhibits, including a collection of clocks and textiles, housed instead at the town's Moyse's Hall Museum.

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West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village and Country Park could also be developed when members decide between the three possible options shortlisted to improve the accessibility of artefacts to the public and increase visitor numbers.

But long-term supporters of the Georgian museum, originally built as a town house for the Bristol family in 1736, last night predicted protests would take place over the plans, which they described as “a great shame”.

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“Frankly, in my mind this is a half-cocked suggestion which has not been thought through properly,” said Sir Reginald Harland, secretary for the friends of the museum. “There is going to be a hell of a row over it.”

And David Rees, a Bury Society committee member, said the building was “special, elegant and tasteful”, adding it “seemed like” the authority was “selling off its family silver”.

He said: “It is a lovely building and a beautiful museum and it does seem a great shame. The Manor House is so different, whereas Moyse's Hall is a typical museum you could see anywhere.

“This is penny pinching and it does not seem logical to sell off one public building as another one is being built on the Cattle Market.”

The council brought the Manor House in 1988, spending £2million on refurbishing and extending the property and an additional £300,000 fitting it out. It attracted just over 11,000 people last year, amounting to an equivalent cost of just over £24 per visitor.

“The Manor House is a wonderfully elegant building and is still going to be there,” said Nigel Aitkens, council portfolio holder for the economy. “We do not want to see it mothballed, but want to see it go straight to another use.

“But the museum is not centrally located, is very expensive to operate and is not attracting the number of visits that the exhibits justify.

“The council has got some wonderful buildings, and it is surely important that we invest in the buildings we have got, such as the Athenaeum, to bring in more people and get a far better return on the taxpayers' money.”

The recommendation to close the treasure house comes following a review of all the council's heritage services, carried out with the support of independent consultants since June.

Three options will now be weighed up by members, which include developing a more extensive service at West Stow and moving exhibits from the Manor House to Moyse's Hall.

A maximum of 12 jobs would be lost and between £77,750 and £212,200 saved, depending on which plan the councillors back.

Mike Dawson, corporate director of community at the council, said policies were in place regarding redundancies and added staff would be redeployed wherever possible.

The proposals will be considered by the policy development committee and cabinet before a final decision is taken by the full council next month.

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