Row kicks off over ambitious Weald and Downland project

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. Below: The draft plans
Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. Below: The draft plans

AN ARGUMENT has erupted over whether to grant £100,000 of public cash towards a hugely-popular museum.

The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, in Singleton, was set to benefit from West Sussex County Council’s Kickstart fund, which aims to invest in projects that ‘sustain and grow the local economy’.

However, Labour councillors have reacted with fury, saying the museum should not be getting the money when people in the county are going hungry.

Michael Jones, Labour county councillor for Southgate and Crawley Central, said: “This isn’t just about money being given to one museum, although once again we are seeing West Sussex behaving like it is the local district council and pouring money into the Chichester area on an issue that is not part of its responsibilities as a county council.

“It is about the fact that the Tory county council is prioritising money to effectively subsidise local businesses and boost their profits, when at the same time they are slashing spending on frontline services they are legally obliged to provide.”

A number of Labour councillors have challenged the Conservatives, meaning the decision has been called in to be discussed by the county council’s environmental and community services select committee.

The meeting was due to take place at 2.15pm tomorrow (January 21).

Council leader Louise Goldsmith and cabinet member for finance Michael Brown met with the museum prior to agreeing the funding in December.

The museum submitted detailed proposals to the council, which talk of a new gateway project that would ‘transform the way that visitors experience the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum from the moment they enter the site’.

“A new gateway to the museum will be built around the museum’s millpond,” said the proposals.

The proposals include a new restaurant, improved car parking, conservation of the two historic buildings and a new learning space.

In December, the museum was awarded £4m by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the scheme.

“The Tories told us last month they cannot afford £70,000 to go towards the county’s food banks, despite the clear need in some areas,” said Cllr Jones.

“The cabinet member asked us at full council where should this money come from instead – well I am telling him it should come from here for a start.”