Outraged local residents have forced Canterbury City Council to backtrack on plans to close three museums as part of a £3 million budget-cutting plan after bringing the historic Kent city to a virtual standstill during a flash protest on Saturday (February 13).
Supporters packed the streets to demonstrate against the Conservative-run council's proposals to close the Roman Museum, Westgate Towers Museum and Herne Bay Museum.
Local councillors joined the protest
A final announcement had been expected at a full council meeting at the city's Guildhall on Thursday, but Council Leader John Gilbey has now issued an emergency statement which appears to have postponed the decision.
"We are proposing to cut our museums' budget by £112,600 over the next two years," he said.
"In our original budget proposals that were issued for consultation last autumn, we identified savings through the possible closure of the Roman and West Gate Towers Museums in Canterbury and changing the use of the Herne Bay Museum to become a community and education-focused history space.
The Roman Museum is under threat from the cost-cutting proposals. Photo © Matthew Reames
"During the coming months we will be looking carefully at all these options as well as working closely with important national organisations such as the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.
"It must be stressed that the council will not be taking a decision to close the museums [at the meeting]. It will be only be deciding on the proposed budgets for 2010-2011."
The suggested "review and restructure" of museum services was the least popular proposal in the public budget consultation, with 44% of voters rejecting the idea.
A final decision on the plans has been postponed following the demonstration
Paul Bennett, Director of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, told councillors the Roman Museum was a "jewel in the crown" of the city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"It's so easy to slash and burn a precious asset, but impossible to put it back," he argued.
"I'm a total loss to understand why the clear voice of the electorate has been ignored in such a Draconian fashion.
"Canterbury City Council's statement does little to clarify the situation. It is still the council's intent to withdraw funding from the museum, thereby effectively closing it."
More than 1,300 people have joined a Facebook campaign opposing the closures, with one supporter accusing the "lunatic" council of putting education "at the bottom of the list". Liberal Democrat Councillor Alex Perkins said they were guilty of "an astonishing collection of spin and untruths."
The Save Canterbury's Museums group has secured almost 4,000 signatures on an online petition opposing the plans.
Sign the online petition to add your support for the campaign.
Protest photos courtesy Save Canterbury's Museums