Explosion! Funding Cut - Museum Future in Doubt

By Jon Pratty, Editor, 24 Hour Museum | 13 February 2002

Left: weapons on display include the AIM 9 Sidewinder and a real Exocet air-to-ground missile.

Explosion!, the award-winning museum of naval gunnery at Priddy's Hard, Gosport, is threatened with closure after local borough councillors pulled the plug on the museum's budget.

A massive 60% cut was voted through by Labour and Liberal councillors last week against the advice of the Conservative minority leadership.

According to Explosion! director Michael Nutt, the budget amendments will leave the museum with insufficient funds to continue beyond the autumn of 2002.

Right: local councillors may have strayed into a legal minefield in making cuts.

Further trouble could follow, according to Leader of the Council, Peter Edgar (Conservative). Voting for the closure of Explosion! may leave Gosport Borough Council in breach of undertakings to the Millennium Commission, who granted funds to the Explosion! project.

This could mean that the council might become liable to repay the sum granted - at least £3 million pounds. According to Councillor Edgar, that could lead to a catastrophic increase in tax bills.

Left: naval heritage is all around: but jobs are are threatened and industrial activity is dwindling.

"It would cost around eight pence per rate payer, to continue to support Explosion! with more revenue funding," said Cllr Edgar. "To close it could result in a massive increase in council tax. It's a situation somewhat without precedent."

Right: twenty years ago staff at Priddy's Hard worked round the clock arming ships of the Falklands task force.

Meanwhile, messages of support for the museum, which has been open for less than a year, are rolling in. A petition against the cuts has been launched and can be signed at the Museum, at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard or on the Explosion! website

Almost 40,000 people have enjoyed the fascinating relics at Priddy's Hard. If you are one of the many satisfied visitors, take the time to click onto the website and register your support.

"The number of people who are seeking us out to lend their support is growing everyday," said Michael Nutt, Director of Explosion!

"This has helped to keep our spirits up and convince us further of the need to persuade the Council to think again. We think we have a very strong case - Explosion! is after all so important for Gosport. We want people to sign the petition to show they think so too. "

"Of course - we support Explosion!" said Rob Griffiths, marketing manager at Flagship Portsmouth. "I am more than happy to personally sign the petition as well as have the petition available for visitors to the dockyard."

Left: one major infrastructure improvement did get built: Forton Lake bridge connects Explosion! via a Millennium Walk to Gosport.

Explosion was recently voted Specialist Museum of the Year 2002, but overall visitor numbers are some way short of predictions, admits Michael Nutt. However, key parts of the local millennium strategy, meant to complement the museum and supplement council funding have not materialised.

Right: it's taken many years of long term investment to attract substantial numbers of visitors to the Historic Dockyard.

Mr Nutt added that a crucial link road and a waterbus scheme, promised by the Council, have not been in put in place. Without these the museum faces an uphill struggle to increase visitor numbers.

Daphne Vernon, former worker of Priddy's Hard and local Gosport resident said, "I'm quite angry about the decision, because the other parts of the scheme haven't happened yet, such as the road link. So Explosion! has not been given a chance. I am happy to sign the petition."

Left: regeneration in action - the Millennium Walk at Gosport Ferry.

"This affair is in fact about much more than keeping the museum open," said Mr Nutt. "It's all about Gosport itself. Explosion! is the flagship of regeneration plans in the area. It enhances the image of Gosport, it's a destination for tourists. This is not a one-way investment for the council - it attracts money back into the area. It's about the future of Gosport."

Beyond this, Mr Nutt pointed out Councillors need to see Explosion! as a long-term project: "It took Fort Nelson, over the water, twenty years to build decent visitor numbers. We are asking them to take a long view. The investment made so far will pay off - but we need the rest of the Gosport waterfront plan to be implemented."

Council leader Peter Edgar, involved in Explosion! from the start of the project, is working hard behind the scenes to reverse the cuts voted in by opposition councillors. "I've written to them all today. It was a cry from the heart really. Some have said privately they didn't realise the implications the new budget might have."

Click here to sign the petition.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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