The curtain has fallen on £26m plans for a museum of Blackpool’s entertainment heritage at the Winter Gardens.
But the council, which said that an £8m funding shortfall was to blame despite the chance of getting a £15m Heritage Lottery grant later this year, said it might not be the final act in the drama.
I am very surprised and it is a huge disappointment
Announcing the shock axing of the plans, the council said that instead, it would look at plans for a different museum elsewhere in the town, using the “good work that has already taking place with a view to submitting new funding bids in future years.”
The news has been met with shock and anger.
Work is due to start later this year on the revamp of the Winter Gardens, which will see it be able to host up to 7,000 delegates in a new conference centre.
It was hoped the musuem would be part of the re-development.
Leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool Council, Coun Tony Williams, said the whole exercise was an inappropriate use of public money since the conference centre was always a threat to the museum project and public money on a feasibility study had been wasted.
In a statement today, the council said: “The museum, which was previously earmarked to be built in the Pavilion Theatre, was awarded £1.24m by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014 – money which was used to explore the feasibility of running a full scale museum.
“However, large costs to develop the Grade II* listed building, resulting in an £8m gap in the amount of capital funding available to create the museum, means that the council has today decided not to proceed.
Council Leader Simon Blackburn said: “From day one with the project I have always said that if it didn’t add up financially then we wouldn’t go ahead with it.
“We won’t ever risk tax payers’ money unless we are happy that we can recover that investment.
“While the business plan was properly thought through, the financial risk that the council would have to take to get the museum off the ground was simply too high. Let me be clear however. We aren’t packing up our buckets and spades and going home.
“A lot of hard work has been put into this project by officers and volunteers and along with them I am still committed to the idea that a town of Blackpool’s size and importance deserves a dedicated museum, which is what we will work towards now.”
The money spent so far on structural surveys, design and investigation around the Pavilion and Horseshoe was needed to help preserve them.
The council added: “Work will continue to find a new use for the Pavilion and Horseshoe at the Winter Gardens, however the oncoming work to build the conference centre will change the dynamic and possibilities for the area to ensure it is not neglected.”
But Coun Tony Williams said Lottery funding to carry out a feasibility study and surveys was never going to result in a museum at the Winter Gardens.
He said: “Since the announcement was made about the conference centre I knew that museum was in jeopardy.
“All in all millions, which however you look at it, is public money, has been spent inappropriately.
“The surveys of the building were not what that money was meant to be for. Not for that use alone.
“It would be reasonable for the National Lottery to call for the return of that money.
“I know for a fact that the opportunity for using that particular space for the conference centre was discussed long, long ago but they have used the money for the surveys which was inappropriate.
“I always thought that the museum would only be a one visit attraction.
“I am not sure that many people would want to go to a museum to look at picture postcards showing the packed beach from 1962. There might have been some sort of ride in there but I am not sure that it was going to be a big enough attraction.”
Claire Smith said: “I was dubious at first because I thought it was going to be some sort of stuffy museum, but a few weeks ago, I met the museum people and saw the drawings and plans and was converted.
“It looked very exciting, very interactive and a great asset to Blackpool’s offer and something for all the family.
“I thought they were just waiting for the Lottery money announcement in September and then it was going ahead. So I am very surprised and it is a huge disappointment.
“The conference centre is fabulous news but the museum would be in an area of the Winter Gardens which is really dilapidated.
“Will there be money in the conference centre project to cover that?
“If not we will have a wonderful conference centre and next to it a theatre area that is falling apart. I would be horrified if that were the case.”
She said there may be other venues in Blackpool to host a museum but questioned whether Lottery money would be forthcoming to create as good an attraction as the one that had been planned at the Winter Gardens.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said items donated by the public should be put on show publicly in pop-up displays to keep the enthusiasm for the project going.
He said: “It is obviously frustrating and disappointing that this exciting and ambitious project has been stalled for now, though I fully understand the decision, especially in the current economic situation Blackpool is having to endure with significantly lower Government funding.