Residents blast "fundamental misunderstanding" as Croydon Council proposes huge arts cuts

By Ben Miller | 28 January 2011
A photo of a clocktower
The Museum at the Clocktower in Croydon looks set for the axe under council proposals passed this week© Ross Burgess
Outraged local residents have savaged plans by Croydon Council to turn the Museum of Croydon into a static display and axe all arts services in the town.

Members of the public were given a month to have their say in a public consultation offering five options for cultural provisions in the town. The most severe of those, which will close the popular Clocktower Arts and David Lean Cinema, is being pursued by leaders despite being slammed by three-quarters of the 1,500 people who took part.

The Heritage Lottery Fund could now call on the council to repay a £933,000, 25-year grant provided in 2005 for the refurbishment of the museum if it is closed, although a permanent exhibition inside the building will give the council the chance to avoid losing the award.

At a stormy council meeting on Monday, hecklers accused the cabinet of “cultural vandalism” as they outlined the dramatic proposals.

“It’s obvious that a museum isn’t just a room with stuff in it that doesn’t change,” said one local resident repsonding to council proposals to run the museum with skeleton staff.

“When you don’t have any staff to run it, it will fall apart. In reality it seems like they’re doing this as they don’t want to pay back the money to the Heritage Lottery Fund, but they’re saying it’s because they listened to the public. This is not what the public called for.

“I went to the cabinet meeting and the Cabinet Member for Culture, who put forward these proposals, called the museum a library. It’s a museum – if she can’t even get that right, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding on behalf of the council about what they’re getting rid of.”

A statement from the HLF said leaders would be negotiating with the council, which has been ordered to save £90 million over the next four years.

“[We] recognise the difficult circumstances the council is operating in and the extent of the cuts it is having to make, but the clear preference is for the Museum of Croydon to remain open and continue  in some form what [the public] perceive as its excellent service to Croydon residents,” it added.

“HLF will take a view about whether to agree a change in the Approved Purposes of the grant to the council.”

One local news blog, Inside Croydon, suggested that 30 staff affected by the proposals had been informed they would be made redundant before the decision was passed.

Just 7% of residents thought cuts to the service would have little or no impact on them, with more than half saying it would have “severe” implications.

Of the five proposed options, the clearest response hit back against the adopted choice – “minimal museum management and archive” – with almost 75% of voters picking it as the one they would least recommend.

46% thought the council should cancel the Croydon Summer Festival, saving £150,000, with the remaining voters split largely between a moderately reduced arts and heritage service and making no reductions at all.

Labour councillor Tony Newman told the Croydon Advertiser the cuts were “narrow-minded and shortsighted”.

"In addition to the jobs being lost, reducing the cultural offer will have a real impact on new employers who are looking for a place to relocate their business to,” he said.

The Local Studies Library looks set to be spared closure following a campaign by the Croydon Guardian to keep it open, but a further consultation has been launched which could see up to six local libraries shut in a move the authority claims could save up to £619,000.

“As a responsible council we are attempting to balance the budget and we are having to do some difficult things,” said Councillor Tim Pollard.

“We have listened to the consultation on a number of services and have been impressed by the depth of appreciation for things like the library."

Hundreds of people have signed an online petition to save the arts services in the town, and a petition and badge campaign has been launched to support Norbury Library, one of the centres under threat.

“I am genuinely sad to be in a position where we have to look at these sorts of options,” said Councillor Sara Bashford, the cabinet minister for customer services, culture and sport.

“Many people see their local libraries as vital to the life of the community, and I want to make sure that if we do close the doors on any of them we do so only after we have looked closely at the impact that this might have on the lives of our residents."

Four public meetings will take place before the library consultation ends on February 20 2011.

More on this story:
Consultation results summary
Petition to save Norbury Library
Stop Arts & Heritage Funding Cuts petition
Croydon libraries consulation survey online
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: