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Lancaster Market move to Museum building - 'investigations' continue

John Freeman
Despite intense opposition to the proposal, Lancaster City Council is to press ahead with its investigation into a plan to move Lancaster Market to the Museum building in Market Square.

As we previously reported, the Council's Cabinet proposed an investigation into moving the Market from its current rented location after considering a lengthy report into how it could be better marketed and improved. The Friends of the City Museum, Conservative and Labour councillors have all expressed concern at the proposal to move it to the City Museum, which would mean refurbishing and extending the building and, potentially, moving the Museum out of the building completely, and into Lancaster Castle.

The proposal became the subject of a "call in" by the Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee (see news story) but an amended proposal, calling on the Council to consider other locations for a Market move, was defeated.

"Unfortunately the resolution was lost by five to three," Councillor Roger Mace, who felt he was effectively "gagged" when the proposal came to Full Council, told virtual-lancaster.

"[Councillor] Jon Barry's verbal remarks at the Cabinet meeting on 15th February about potentially using the upper floor of the City Museum as well as the lower floor for re-locating the market tenants were the spark that triggered my question to the [Council's] Chief Executive," Roger explains. "I have an e-mail exchange with Jon which confirms that he is expecting the upper floor of the Museum to be included in the investigation (excluding only the Regimental Museum).

"These views were also the basis for Jon's remarks at the call-in - but are clearly different to the views [Council leader] Councillor Stuart Langhorn expressed - a difference which remains a poor basis for a Cabinet decision," Roger argues.

"Investigating 'the possibility of developing and extending Lancaster City Museum, in Market Square, to provide an improved museum and indoor market' is one idea - and there is nothing against investigating possible enhancement of the City museum's offering on its present site - but it seems cabinet is doing this in the same report as one designed to solve the problem of the City's outlay in renting and servicing the Market Building.

"Combining the two issues in this way does not offer clarity of objective to justify spending public money on yet another report from outside consultants," the Conservative councillor continues, "especially when it is so clearly the case that there is no consensus between cabinet members as to the near term future of the permanent exhibits and temporary exhibition space at the City Museum."

Commenting on the suggestion that the Museum might ultimately be moved into Lancaster Castle, Roger feels the long term future of the City Museum in the context of the potential for changes at the castle is yet another issue, but points out "The castle is not the property of the City, and changes at the castle are no present justification for assuming that the City Museum building might cease to be used as a museum."

"A misconceived proposal"

As for plans to extend the Museum building, local architect David Morgan gives the proposal short shrift.

"The mystic thinking of the Council has plummeted to new depths in its attempt to resolve the problem of the market, whose present demise is a direct result of their previous failings," he feels. "This relocation proposal breaks the golden rules of retailing that you ignore at your peril."

Mr Morgan notes several problems:

  • Pedestrian access has to be an easy transition from pavement to interior and in this instance is simply not feasible
  • Open sight lines to the interior are fundamental and this is not feasible with a cellular building. Any alteration to this building would decimate the interior. The present market presents a good example of how, with no control, visual chaos can ruin a building
  • Goods delivery and waste could induce more large vehicles through pedestrian areas and create an 'eye sore' to the rear of the building.
  • Any extension would present a significant challenge to an architect of national standing for it to sit in comfort on such an important site. It would mean the removal of disabled parking to facilitate.
  • This is a listed building and as such should be untouchable

"We are presently witnessing the erosion of standards to our historic city and this proposal would make a significant contribution to a failed legacy," he feels. "It is not necessary to waste more tax payers' money on yet more consultants' feasibility studies on a misconceived proposal."

"David's advice suggests to me that the idea of extending the Museum Building at the back is unlikely to be achievable,' feels Councillor Mace, "and if achievable, is unlikely to be at acceptable cost, or suitable for the intended purpose of accommodating market traders.

"Spending more money on consultants just looks like throwing good money after bad - especially if the idea of using the Museum space to house the Market traders is basically 'a non-starter', which a desk-top study by officers should be enough to confirm.

"The idea of re-housing the traders somewhere may be a pre-requisite for any sort of significant renovation or improvement to the Market building - and it would in my view be essential to relocate them somewhere if the ultimate aim is to create a 'white box' for a single tenant. Hence the recommendations put forward to Overview and Scrutiny for consideration at the call-in."

"A high risk adventure"

Joining the critics of the proposal is Councillor Ron Sands, whose long involvement in promoting tourism in the Lancaster area gives him a unique perspective on any changes to the Museum's location.

"An argument that should weigh heavily with the Cabinet is one based on an analysis over many years of the respective success of the museum versus the repeated failure of the market," he notes. "The museum has a splendid record of high achievement and strong public appreciation. The market has enjoyed neither of these valuable qualities.

"Can we afford to take on a high risk adventure on behalf of the market (with its long established failings) and simultaneously shoulder the burden of relocating the museum with all the perils and uncertainties of replicating that success in a different location?

"Year after year, the museum has consistently performed well whilst the Market has consistently floundered. The public have never convincingly demonstrated that they wish to support the Market. But they have repeatedly demonstrated their strong support and affection for the Museum.

"Why jeopardise the Museum's success by moving it to an untried, untested and unidentified new location, in return for the dubious hope that an hitherto unregarded Market can suddenly flourish against all the evidence?"