Call for consultation on future of museum sites

CALLS have been made to consult residents on the future of two museums scheduled for closure next year, after it emerged that they may not get to have their say.

Hitchin Museum and Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery are both expected to close next year, with their services moved to the new district facility at Hitchin Town Hall.

But potential options on the future of both buildings could go straight to Cabinet, with no public consultation. It is not yet known publicly what these options will be.

Chairman of Hitchin area committee Cllr Judi Billing said that she thought the public’s views should be taken into account.

“Given what we feel in Hitchin about wanting to be consulted, it would be very silly not to consult people of the town,” she said.

“On the other hand, we know it will be a council decision on what to do and the good news is that because there are covenants, it will have to be used for the public.

“It needs to be retained for community use. Now that the bridge club and others at Bancroft Hall may be looking for another venue, they will have a view about whether they could do something with it.”

Most Read

Hitchin resident Robin Dartington called for the facilities to be kept for community use, or as meeting places for area committees and local groups.

“The problem that we have with the council is that it doesn’t know enough about the town or the needs of its residents. It’s not based in the town [of Hitchin], many of the councillors aren’t from the town,” said Mr Dartington.

“If left to the officers, and then Cabinet, we will get the normal, dry list of unimaginative stuff. We must be able to have our say.”

The relocation of the Letchworth GC facility has proved an unpopular decision with town centre groups, who say that many of the items in the museum belong, or were paid for, those in the town.

Once the museum closes, just the Heritage Museum will remain in the town, with stock - including paintings by Letchworth GC artists - all moved to Hitchin.

Allan Lupton, chairman of Letchworth Garden City Society, said: “Letchworth in general, and the society in particular, is duly concerned that we won’t have a museum in Letchworth. Quite a lot of the works and paintings were given to Letchworth in the first place, or bought by the Letchworth public for Letchworth.

“There are grave concerns that there won’t be a decent museum in Letchworth of any sort. The Heritage Museum can’t really take on any more.

“It was originally built as a museum, and has been such for the thick end of 100 years. But it’s too late now, and it’s difficult to say what we want the council to now do.”

The refurbished town hall is due to open in late 2013 - one year after the closure of the respective museums.

John Robinson, strategic director of customer services, said: “A provisional plan for the closure of both museums has been devised, which is expected to see full closure by the end of the summer of 2012, although this is subject to the approval of the development agreement between the council and Hitchin Town Hall Ltd.

“No decision has been made on the potential uses or sale of Letchworth and Hitchin Museum buildings following their closure, but we are carefully considering and assessing a range of options.

“We are in the process of assessing what potential implications any restrictions or covenants contained within Hitchin Museum’s transfer deed may have on those plans. The council will of course abide by any applicable restrictions on the use of the building.”