Museum campaigners staring at defeat

CAMPAIGNERS battling to bring a Suffolk museum back from the brink are “drinking in the last chance saloon” after a council announced it had put its historic home on the market.

CAMPAIGNERS battling to bring a Suffolk museum back from the brink are “drinking in the last chance saloon” after a council announced it had put its historic home on the market.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council is now looking for “expressions of interest” from developers and expect to have sold the Manor House Museum in Bury St Edmunds by early 2007.

The house closed as a museum in March after the council's heritage review found it too expensive to run.

Friends of the museum claim with their leadership and investment they could make the facility more popular.


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But they said the council had set too stringent requirements for them to meet because they claim the authority has already made its mind up.

Simon Pott, chairman of the Manor House Museum action group, said: “It doesn't surprise me - we may still buy it or someone will buy it for us but we are certainly drinking in the last chance saloon.

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“We have done our best and we have pressed the council but to no avail. They said they were prepared to consider us to run the museum but the fact is they have closed their minds to us.

“We had a strong presentation with detailed figures and some amazingly strong support but it didn't sway the council.

“They wouldn't support us - they required us to pay rent of £65,000 a year and spend £35,000 a year on maintenance.

“That's what killed it - no museum can work under pressure like that.”

Mr Pott said the council needed a more thorough review and he said he hoped they would consider setting up a heritage trust to run all the borough's museums including the Manor House.

Nigel Aitkens, the council's cabinet member for economy and asset management, said: “We expect tremendous interest in the Manor House and are looking forward to the next stage of the building's history, which may well be similar to its original use as a townhouse.

“Following the successful conversion of the West Front, we are expecting best possible value for our council taxpayers.”

The Manor House, a Georgian Grade 1-listed building, has been owned by St Edmundsbury Borough Council since 1988, and the museum hosted a collection of some of the world's finest clocks and watches.

The building already has planning consent for office use and an application for change of use to two homes is due to go to the development control committee later this year.

As a result of a heritage services review, the council is focusing its heritage services on the Moyse's Hall Museum and West Stow Country Park and Anglo-Saxon Village.

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