City of Canterbury budget 2010−2011
(NB: The reference numbers below link to a deleted page on Wikipedia, but all the references are listed at the bottom of this page, and the other external links still work.)
The City of Canterbury budget 2010−2011, announced by Canterbury City Council in October 2009, was necessary to cut costs but was notable for creating widespread controversy because it involved the closure of three museums and Canterbury‘s sole dance hall. These facilities are the Roman Museum which shelters a scheduled monument within a Grade I listed Roman building, the hundred-year-old West Gate Towers Museum in its medieval gatehouse, the 100-year-old Westgate Hall, and 80-year-old Herne Bay Museum in Herne Bay, Kent.
In October 2009 Canterbury City Council announced that it had to save £3.5m for budgeting purposes over two years due to dwindling revenues, so proposed that on 18 February 2010 it would formalise the decision to close three museums andCanterbury‘s sole dance hall in the following April to May. However, “The council is consulting on its proposed budget until December 18 and says nothing has yet been finalised”.
The council aimed to save a total of £112,600 per year by closing all the museums mentioned in the budget. The public consultation process consisted of brief questionnaires handed out by the museum to visitors, and on the council website. With respect to its questionnaire, the Council said: “A summary of all the comments will be available for the Executive Committee when they make their final recommendations on the budget on 21 January 2010 to Full Council”. 44% of respondents said that they found closures of the three museums and Westgate Hall unacceptable, but the budget plans went ahead anyway.[11
Revenue budget projection
The revenue budget projection for 2010 to 2014 was presented at the 21 January 2010 meeting of the Executive Committee of Canterbury City Council. The temporary suspension of contribution to museums services in general was projected to save £11,000 for three museums out of Canterbury’s total of six, by closing Herne Bay Museum, Roman Museum and West Gate Towers, and re-allocating some space in Whitstable Museum.
The document projects savings of £49,000, £112,600, £116,000 and £119,500 in the years 2010-11, 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013-14 respectively for all the museums, and explains the closures with this statement:
Museums: We currently operate six museums in the district – these are very expensive to maintain and dilute the quality we are able to offer. We are proposing to develop two flagship museums and art gallery in the city (Museum of Canterbury and Beaney Institute). The Roman Museum will close with collections moved to the Museum of Canterbury. The Westgate Towers would also close (currently one day a week only). We propose to turn the Herne Bay Museum into a community and education space and re-house many of the exhibits locally for people to continue to enjoy.
Executive Committee meeting, 21 January 2010
mp3 recording In the event, the Executive Committee made its final recommendation to close the museums and dance hall on Thursday 21 January 2010, and it was confirmed that the final vote would be taken on Thursday 18 February 2010.
In response to the formal speeches of objection to the budget by representatives of the museums and Westgate Hall at the 21 January meeting, Council leader John Gilbey said: “We just wonder if they have any interest in anything beyond their own little campaign and any understanding about everything else we have to do.”
Full council meeting, 18 February 2010
A petition to save Canterbury‘s museums with over 4,000 signatures was presented by Councillor James Flanagan. The text of the Liberal Democrat amendment was as follows: “Seek to set up a trust made up of the Friends of the Museums, The Archaeological Trust, The Guild of Guides and the two local Universities to run thedistrict’s smaller museums.
Fund this year from the £74,600 transfer fund set up by the Executive Committee on 4 February to fund their plan to transfer exhibits from the Roman Museum.” It was voted out by 26 votes to 18. The original budget proposal was voted in, in spite of two Conservative abstentions. One abstention was bySheriff of Canterbury Gabrielle Davis. The Conservative administration has said it will keep the museums open for the financial year 2010−2011 whilst working with other organisations to examine ways of keeping the museums open.
A “Save Canterbury’s Museums” Facebook group and petition were started in January and February 2010 by local ward councillor James Flanagan. The petition collected over 4,100 signatures as of early February 2010. A flash mob was arranged for 13 February at Butchery Lane, Canterbury, to increase public awareness of the four impending closures, and actor Tony Robinson was known to support the cause. The Council for British Archaeology joined the pressure group for the Roman Museum and Westgate, Canterbury.A Roman army reenactment group suggested dressing in Roman costume and reenactng a march on Canterbury. The 13 February flash mob in Butchery Lane “virtually closed down Canterbury”.
Liberal Councillor Alex Perkins told the crowd that in spite of the Council’s reassurance, “the threat to the museums was real”. At the 1.00pm meeting at Westgate Hall on the same day, the comment was made that “the hall is the only sizeable public space to hold functions and events in”.
On 5 February at the launch of a new Canterbury exhibition, historian David Starkey made a verbal attack on the Council leadership, which embarrassed Council leader John Gilbey who was present. He said, “Shutting a museum is not the same as closing a public convenience. You might make a short-term gain but it will be a long-term loss because once a museum closes it cannot easily be replaced . . . Canterbury is in danger of becoming a cathedral next to a shopping mall.”
On 10 February 2010, Flanagan said, “At the Council meeting we will be putting forward a carefully costed alternative budget which will keep the museums open for everyone to enjoy. It’s all been checked by the Council finance team, and it really is possible.” Council Opposition Leader Alex Perkins confirmed in statements to the local press that he would move amendments at the 18 February Council meeting which if accepted would keep all three threatened museums open. The Canterbury Society says that the Council consulted it, and that it is concerned about the closures. In response to the Council’s suggestion that the Roman Museum could become a mosaic in a cafe, the Society of Antiquaries of London said, “Such a use will fit ill with the fact that the museum is built around a scheduled monument . . .” Local journalists speculated that some Conservativecouncillors might defy the party whip and vote against the budget on 18 February.
Council response to controversy
Council leader John Gilbey published a Media statement on 10 February, saying that the Council was in negotiations regarding alternative funding and use of the museums. The statement said, “It must be stressed that next week, the council will not be taking a decision to close the museums. It will be only be deciding on the proposed budgets for 2010-2011 . . . We would prefer not to have to close any museums and are keen to work with partners to find solutions that will improve residents’ access to and experience of their heritage.” The statement mentions neither Westgate Hall nor any conclusive decision regarding the future of any museum. Meanwhile, Canterbury City Council’s budget proposals document, on which councillors will vote on 18 February, continues to be phrased in terms of closure. The Council’s website says:
“When would the changes to the museums service take effect? The Roman Museum and West Gate Towers Museum in Canterbury closure, and the new use for Herne Bay Museum, would come into effect in late spring/early summer 2010. When would the Westgate Hall be demolished and what would happen to the site? This would probably happen in early 2011. The site has been identified for use as a car park in the immediate term. We would consult on its permanent use later”.
Councillor Gilbey said on 17 February 2010 that a decision would not be taken to close the museums at the 18 February full Council vote and, whatever the outcome of the vote, museums would not close or change use on or before April 1. At the same time, Chief Executive Colin Carmichael said that an extra £75,000 had been allocated to either keep some or all of the museums open briefly, or to refurbish them in such a manner as to entice such companies as Continuum. Continuum’s director Juliana Delaney said that the Roman Museum with itsclassification and contexting for educational purposes was “not necessarily a quality of offer that is good enough for a city like Canterbury” and that it needed “a new approach to telling a great story”. Currently, Continuum’s Canterbury Tales attraction in St Margaret’s Street offers didactic entertainment using reconstructions and actors only. The education offered by this entertainment is by story-telling, and is not interactive, bearing in mind the intake of fifty visitors per twenty minutes.
National news articles
- The Independent: Canterbury’s Roman Museum could fall victim to the credit crunch, by Lynette Eyb, 8 February 2010
- Times Online: Roman Colchester, Canterbury and Malta: the good and bad news, by Mary Beard, 12.04am, 10 February 2010
Herne Bay Museum
Main article: Herne Bay Museum
The museum is on two floors, with the bouncing bomb and historical holiday displays on the ground floor, and on the second floor ispaleontology, archaeology, history, artefacts and photographs of local interest, an educational space and the art gallery including the Sidney Coopers. The proposed budget plan is to clear the entire first floor and to pack away most exhibits in cupboards on the second floor, where there is no public access. The first floor would then be used by Canterbury City Council’s Foreshore Services team for storage of files. A few exhibits, including the ground floor bouncing bomb, would be displayed at Reculver and elsewhere. The ground floor would be partially cleared as an educational space, leaving a few holiday-themed displays for educational purposes and paying groups by appointment.
The projected closure caused local controversy about the need for the museum as a tourist attraction. It provoked comments in the local newspaper about defeatism and appeals by schools, historians, artists, sailors and others who cite the educational and cultural value of the museum as an argument against closure. A meeting to start a campaign to save the museum was held in November 2009 and was attended by Herne Bay Historical Records Society, Herne Bay Improvement Trust, CT6 Contemporary Art Group, Herne Bay Sailing Club and Herne Bay Living History Group.
The controversy continued on 21 January 2010 when, in response to the Council vote to close the museum, the Sheriff of CanterburyCouncillor Gabrielle Davis volunteered to “head defence of our heritage”. Gabrielle Davis is a member of the Herne Bay Improvement Trust, along with Herne Bay Historical Society. A suggestion was made to keep the museum open using voluntary staff, but the Trust was told by Council leader John Gilbey that this would cause union problems with current staff across all of Canterbury’s museums, and that without a paid and qualifiedcurator Herne Bay Museum would lose its accreditation. Other options were being considered, such as finding alternative accommodation for Canterbury City Council’s Foreshore Services team (which will otherwise take over the first floor for file storage) or such as applying for National Lottery funds. At the 21 January Executive Committee meeting, speaker Janet Cook said that many objects had been given in trust to the Museum on the understanding that they were to be viewed by the public. A pressure group led by David Cross was organised to increase public awareness and to create a trust or body to consider such options as aLottery grant for Herne Bay Museum.
A street protest took place on Saturday 28 November 2009 in Herne Bay’s main shopping thoroughfare, Mortimer Street. Nine town groups took part: Herne Bay Historical Records Society; Herne Bay Improvement Trust; CT6 Contemporary Art Group; Herne Bay Sailing Club;Herne Bay Junior School; Herne Bay Living History Group; Friends of Herne Mill; Herne Bay Fortnightly Club; Herne Bay-Wimereux Twinning Association. The purpose of this was to distribute the Council’s questionnaires and the protest group’s own petition for signing. In the event, the petition gained 1,700 signatures. Themes of their protest included the museum as a tourist attraction, a place of community activity and historical information, a repository of community memory and local identity and a contributor to the town’s planned regeneration. Herne Bay Museum supporters took part in the flash mob protest in Canterbury on 13 February 2010. After the full Council meeting on 18 February 2010, those councillors who voted to cut funding for the museum said that they were still considering the options; that it was not being closed but its function was being altered and its exhibits moved away. Herne Bay’s councillor Ron Flaherty said the Herne Bay Historical Records Society was appalled.
Main article: Roman Museum
Under the leadership of local opposition councillors and the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT), pressure groups including archaeologists and schools combined to present alternative measures. Objections were made to the proposed closure and to the refusal of the Council to allow time to present alternative funding plans. The availability of funds from the National Lottery and elsewhere was to be considered. The mosaic pavement itself was safe insofar as the council admitted that it must continue to pay for the air conditioning plant which protected it. However, according to the budget, Roman exhibits would be moved to the Museum of Canterbury to combine collections. Council officers were hoping that they could offload the Roman Museum to a business; preferably a restaurant so that people could eat while looking at the historic pavement. The Council has been in talks with Continuum, the company behind the Canterbury Tales entertainment in St Margaret’s Street, with respect to its future control of the Roman Museum. However Canterbury Archaeological Trustfeared that this UNESCO heritage site would then lose its museum status and the exhibits would be replaced by replicas for entertainment purposes. On 14 February, Councillor John Gilbey said that “the Council was giving itself a year to find private partners to run the museum”. At the 18 February full Council meeting at which the Council voted to close the Museum and West Gate Towers, Professor David Birmingham presented a petition and argued that allowing the Roman Museum to be taken over by private enterprise would downgrade it to “a sideshow in a sandwich bar”. The Council responded by saying there would be a comprehensive review of museums in March 2010 but they had to protect the taxpayer from heavier burdens.
Main article: Westgate Hall, Canterbury
Pressure groups including local groups, students from the University of Kent and the Facebook group “Save the Westgate Hall” combined to present alternative measures for these facilities. At the 21 January Executive Committee meeting, a councillor suggested alternative dance venues at a Canterbury school or at Herne Bay, but no alternative venue was fixed or found appropriate. The reason cited for the closure of Westgate Hall was a bill for repairs of over £400,000, and a suggestion that the land could be used as a car park. Speeches by representatives for the Westgate Hall pressure group demonstrated that the hall was the sole dance hall available for public booking in Canterbury. A councillor at the 21 January Executive Committee meeting said that blood donors could be moved elsewhere “at the drop of a hat”, although there was not yet any confirmation of this from blood donors. An 800-signature petition was handed to the Council, and a Facebook site was opened to save the Westgate Hall. Lack of clarity from the Council about the future of the hall meant that users of the hall could not commit themselves to other venues before the 18 February full Council meeting. At the full Council meeting on 18 February in which the Council voted to demolish the hall, Bob Long and Brian Buggins presented petitions with thousands of signatures, complaining of lack of proper public consultation or time to organise alternative funding. Some councillors defended the vote on grounds of fiscal policy and the need for money to refurbish the High Street. The Council’s budget pack says that the hall costs £100,000 to run, and that “The site is a potential area for redevelopment but in the short term would be used to provide parking spaces . . . The council will work with users of the Hall to help them find alternative venues.” However elsewhere in the document it says that closure would save only £71,500 or so per year and that King’s Hall at Herne Bay, the alternative venue suggested by the Council, is subject to possible change of use.
West Gate Towers Museum
Main article: Westgate, Canterbury
This museum was established in 1906, and therefore celebrated its centenary in 2006; a special event to commemorate this took place in the building on 17 June, 2006. It is the largest and most complete surviving medieval gatehouse in the United Kingdom, but the impending closure of its museum – and hence loss of access to the public – has been largely forgotten in this controversy.
Main article: Whitstable Museum and Gallery
The Council’s budget proposal suggested only that some space in this tiny museum was to be reallocated as educational space, and that it would not close for the present. Therefore the museum featured little in the 2010−2011 budget controversy, although no directive as to the amount of space to be re-allocated was given; nor was there any guarantee of future security of the museum.
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- Canterbury City Council Online Budget Consultation page
- Canterbury City Council Online: Agenda for Exec Committee 21 Jan 2010 (incl. link to audio recording)
- Canterbury City Council Online: Agenda for Full Council 18 Feb 2010, 7.00pm (incl. audio: Westgate Hall is at 1hr 24min 40sec; Museums at 2hr 3min)
- Youtube: Unofficial Herne Bay Museum channel
- Facebook: Save Canterbury’s Museums
- Facebook: Save the Westgate Hall
- Save Canterbury’s Museums appeal website
- Kent TV: Herne Bay Museum Closure featuring 21 January 2010 speech by Andrew Cook
- Kent TV: Roman Museum Closure featuring 21 January 2010 speech by Paul Bennett