Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Nottingham City Council: a heritage disaster zone

It's that building again. Seeing the Severn's Building the other day with its Nottingham City Council 'for sale' sign in the window, it seemed to epitomise everything that is wrong about Nottingham City Council and its failure to care for the city's heritage in so many different ways. This is not something I like saying, but things have reached the point where I do not want the Heritage Lottery Fund to give the City Council another penny until it comes up with a comprehensive heritage policy for the city.

Just yards from the Severn's Building is Brewhouse Yard, home to The Museum of Nottingham Life. The council's own website says 'This delightful museum is sited in Brewhouse Yard at the base of Castle Rock, a location that itself reveals much about Nottingham's social history. The museum depicts the social history of Nottingham over the last 300 years and is housed in five 17th century cottages adjacent to the famous 'Trip to Jerusalem' public house'. Unfortunately 'The museum now opens for special events and pre-booked tours of parties of 10 or more only' — in other words it is, for all intents and purposes, closed!

Three years ago, the city council closed Nottingham Industrial Museum in Wollaton Park. I wrote about that closure at the time in The Nottinghamshire Historian and more recently to report on its re-opening, thanks to the work of Nottingham Arkwright Society volunteers.

Other city museums have not been so lucky. The internationally acclaimed Costume Museum and the Nottingham Canal Museum have long gone, although both continue to appear on wildly out-of-date websites. Even the Severns Building once housed a lace museum.

The City Council also owns Newstead Abbey, which it only opens on Sunday afternoons and has been trying to dump for years. Its Lord Byron connections attract visitors from all around the world, many who never get inside the house and leave disappointed. The reason the city can't find a taker is because it will cost any new owner a fortune to refurbish and maintain.

Putting aside Green's Windmill in Sneinton, which opens just twenty hours a week, we are left with the jewels in the crown: Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle. It is these two museums which take the money, whilst more money has been diverted in recent years to Nottingham Contemporary and The New Art Exchange and both, as worthy as they are, have been culpable partners in the demise of city museums celebrating industrial and working class history.

They have some defence in the argument that they are under-resourced, but they do not use it. When they talk about 'cuts' the City Council is never referring to the city's heritage. I could talk about conservation areas, which I have written about in previous blogs, but what they have done with the city's museums is case enough.

The simple truth is that Nottingham has museums which serve a conurbation of 700,000 and five council areas, but the income of one derived from low levels of council tax and a population of 300,000 — in other words the city is starved of cash. Publicly it is very defensive about any suggestion that some of its services (and museums  are a prime example) need to be managed and controlled by the Greater Nottingham conurbation its serves and the other, surrounding, councils (the Hucknall part of Ashfield, Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe) should be putting money in the pot to help pay for services and facilities they are as much beneficiaries of as Nottingham city residents.

For me, this is the other side of the current debate we are having in the city about whether to have an elected mayor to run the city instead of councillors and is one of the reasons I will be voting 'no' next Thursday (3 May) — having a mayor will do nothing to address problems like this.

Nottingham City Council has turned Nottingham into a heritage disaster zone and their track record to date suggests that, barring a miracle, things will get worse before they get better. In the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that we need a 'Nottingham Heritage Trust' with the power to manage and fundraise for museums and heritage related services and facilities in the Greater Nottingham area. It's simple and would be easy to manage and could be done within months and be in place for 1 April 2013 if all the councils agreed to contribute money to cover running costs in proportion to their population.

International news today: French presidential election fight for fascist votes.

National news today: London councils make the headlines with their plans to move thousands of Londoners, who will be made homeless by Coalition Government cuts, to other parts of England, including Walsall, Nottingham and Derby.

Nottingham news today: City Councillor Jeannie Packer who represents Clifton on Nottingham City Council has resigned the Labour whip.

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