The Assembly Rooms are only one item on Ludlow Town Council’s agenda tomorrow. But it is one of the most important. Shropshire Council leader Peter Nutting will tell us about the future of our community and arts venue. He will also speak on the county’s economic strategy. I for one don’t know what that strategy does for Ludlow. Of more immediate interest to many people in the town, he will describe his vision for the future of the Assembly Rooms. The meeting is at 7pm tomorrow in the Guildhall.
Shropshire Council is turning its back on an agreement to help fund the move of our town museum to the historic Buttercross and create a heritage interpretation centre. In doing so, the council is not only threatening to halt the new museum project, it is damaging ambitions for the Assembly Rooms.
The museum move is a win-win project. The Buttercross will give the museum a fantastic permanent location and it will put good use to a currently empty building. The Assembly Rooms can then use the space to help achieve its ambitions to become a cultural hub for the town.
Now the plans are in disarray.
The town council had agreed with Shropshire Council that it could spend a £120,000 grant by the end of June 2014. Last week, Shropshire Council said the funding, under the Market Towns Revitalisation Programme, must be spent by the end of March. That can’t be done. The Buttercross is a Grade I listed building. It is simply not possible to complete a project like this in little more than six months as Shropshire Council is demanding.
There was unfortunately no discussion of the issue at last night’s town council meeting. Greg Ginger caught the mood of the councillors: “I am aghast that this happened. We are all disgusted by it.” But, it would have been good to have heard more views from around the council table.
Town councillors will be holding a meeting with Shropshire Council officers tomorrow morning (18 March). It is vital that Shropshire Council agrees to rollover the funding into the next financial year.
The council has a precedent for this. It spent £10.5 million on a new museum in Shrewsbury that opened two years late. Historic buildings are hard to work with. Councillor Steve Charmley, cabinet member for business growth, acknowledged this when he told the BBC the work on the Shrewsbury Museum had been “painstaking and often hard.” As a result, money for that project was transferred from year to year. This should happen for Ludlow where the work is also painstaking and will often be hard. We are only asking for a few months extension, not two years.
Shropshire Council is threatening a win-win project. We will lose our new museum. Our plans to create a cultural hub at the Assembly Rooms will be in disarray. Our tourist-based economy will suffer.
That’s a stupid lose-lose situation that we don’t need to be in. If we don’t get this funding crisis resolved quickly, I doubt that Ludlow will ever trust Shropshire Council again.