Future options for the running of the Novium Museum, which it is feared could include shutting it down, are to be decided behind closed doors after a string of secret debates.
It was discussed at Chichester District Council’s (CDC) overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday when members were asked to consider the findings of the museum options appraisal and to make any comments or recommendations to cabinet.
The decision is scheduled to be made at CDC’s cabinet meeting on February 7 without any public debate despite more than £800,000 of public money being used annually to subsidise it.
Among those who are angry at the secrecy are local historian Alan Green, who fears closure could be an option: “If the Novium closes – which must be one option – Chichester will be lacking a museum, which for an historic city would be a disgrace.
He added: “I think it’s poor to discuss it in secret. Why be so cloak and dagger? Why can’t they discuss it in open and let people have their say.”
Mr Green was one of the volunteers who helped at the old museum and were ‘dismissed’ when the new one opened. Although the prospect of the new museum was exciting, he said: “Those hopes were dashed as there is less on display now than there was then. The displays are very poor and not chronological. We would have been better off keeping the old museum which served the city well with a constant programme of temporary exhibitions.”
He said he could not understand why there were not more exhibitions such as the recent Admiral Murray and the current Tim Peake, which brought in visitors.
The options appraisal follows concern over the museum’s rising running costs and difficulty in generating income. In February, CDC approved spending £30,000 for an options appraisal which included contracting the management out. In November investigation of more options were approved secretly.
The £6.9m Novium opened in 2012 in premises built by CDC. It relocated from Little London and incorporated a new Tourist Information Centre. CDC sold the former museum and adjoining Tower Street site for £2,465,000 to offset building costs.
Calls by The Observer for a debate in public were refused by Chichester District Council.
A CDC spokesman said: “Thanks for your query regarding the museum. Unfortunately the report cannot be moved from Part 2 because it contains commercial information. The museum operates in a very competitive market, so it is important that any opportunities are reviewed before they can be discussed publicly. We do plan to update members of the public on this particular project in the near future.”
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