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Wycombe Museum set to be sold off by council
WYCOMBE Museum is set to be sold off and its collection moved into displays at the council offices in Queen Victoria Street.
This is despite the Priory Road attraction enjoying a surge in admissions, with 46,000 visitors last year.
Bosses at Wycombe District Council say the museum is costing too much to run – at £385,000 per year – and the building needs expensive work to make it compliant with disability laws.
A small extension to the council headquarters would be built to accommodate the collection, with a charitable trust set up to run it. Council chiefs have accepted the plans 'in principle'.
When asked if the public would be consulted over the move, the Conservative-controlled council said it held a budget consultation in 2009, in which the museum was the fourth most popular choice for a spending cut.
The museum has been housed in the picturesque listed building, Castle Hill House, since 1962. It holds an "irreplaceable collection of unique objects that define the heritage of Wycombe", including a fine furniture collection.
Sale of Castle Hill House is expected to fetch more than £750,000, which is the sum needed to fund the move to the council offices.
Though entry to the museum is free it generates an income of more than £30,000 a year, while visitor numbers have nearly doubled since 2006.
Members of High Wycombe Society have differing views on the move, but president Stuart King said: "I think it's a retrograde step for the council to sell our assets, as it did with Bassetsbury Manor.
"It's short-termism and I don't believe in selling our heritage to the private sector."
He would like to see the furniture collection and historical exibits split between Castle Hill House and the old library in the town centre.
Councillor Trevor Snaith, the leader of Wycombe Liberal Democrats, has called for the cabinet to reconsider the plans. He also thinks moving the facility into the old library, opposite the council building, would be a better option.
The empty former library is owned by Buckinghamshire County and Cllr Snaith believes it could be brought back into use and “reinvigorate” the town centre.
But Tory councillors last week rejected a bid to for the plans to be reviewed. They pointed to a report which said the old library would not be suitable, as it could not house a shop or a cafe, and does not have a lift to access the upper floors.
Council spokesman Catharine Spalton said: “It was concluded that the council offices at Queen Victoria Road, with a modest extension, would offer the best accessible site for Wycombe Museum.
“A move to a charitable trust, another recommendation by the working party, will realise significant savings to the museum’s operating costs, without decreasing the level of service.
“This will be achieved because a charitable trust is more tax efficient and is able to fundraise more easily - there are currently limitations on fundraising as part of a local authority.”
Another Wycombe Society member, Chris Woodman, said he agreed with the council's plans. He said: "The current site is not big enough or compliant with the requirements of disabled people."
He said he had been convinced the old library site would not work, adding that museum staff felt the council building was the best option.
However, he said the society should have been consulted over the decision.
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