NRM closure would ‘devastate York’, city leaders tell Culture Secretary

Council leader James Alexander joins a rally to save the NRM. Photograph: James Alexander on Flickr
17 Jun 2013 @ 9.00 pm
| News

Council leader James Alexander joins a rally to save the NRM. Photograph: James Alexander on Flickr
Council leader James Alexander joins a rally to save the NRM. Photograph: James Alexander on Flickr
The great and the good of York have demanded that the government stop any threat to the National Railway Museum in its tracks.

Twenty-eight leaders from the council, education, church, media, the creative arts and business have put their names to a letter to Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Earlier this month, Ian Blatchford of the Science Museum Group said that reduced funding would mean “not only big cuts in the Science Museum in London but that one of our three great northern museums almost certainly [will] also have to close.”

Those three northern museums are York’s National Railway Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The fightback against the threat to the NRM has been led by the York Press, which has gathered more than 7,000 names on a petition to save the attraction.

Among those signing the letter to Ms Miller are the council leader James Alexander, council chief executive Kersten England, the Dean of York Vivienne Faull, artistic director of the Theatre Royal Damien Cruden and Mark Perkins, chief executive of Shepherd Group Built Environment.

“The National Railway Museum (NRM) contributes hugely to the economic, cultural, social and educational wellbeing of York since it opened in 1975,” the letter states. “It attracts 700,000 UK and international visitors annually who add at least £50m GVA [gross value added] to the city’s economy every year.

“As such, it is an essential component in the city’s plans to deliver a tourism strategy which aims to double the value of this sector in York in the next ten years.”

The letter goes on: “The NRM is at the centre of York’s cultural life. It has an internationally-recognised programme of events, an art gallery, and was the original venue for York Theatre Royal’s hugely successful and award-winning production of The Railway Children in 2009 while also playing a key role in the city’s Olympic Torch Relay festivities.”

It concludes that the impact of the closure of any of the Northern museums would be much more damaging to their host cities than the closure of a London attraction.

“

It would be unthinkable even to consider closing national museums, like the Victoria and Albert or the National History Museum, in London. Why then does it appear to be acceptable to discuss potential closures of national museums in Northern cities?

“The economic and cultural impact of closing a national science museum in Bradford, York or Manchester would be much more devastating in any one of these cities, than closing a London museum would be on the capital’s or indeed the nation’s economy.”

Meanwhile, York MP Hugh Bayley has challenged culture minister Ed Vaizey in Parliament over the issue. Questioned by Mr Bayley, Mr Vaizey said the Government was “committed to the policy of maintaining free admission to the national museums and galleries”.

But he refused to undertake that the Government would provide enough funding to keep all the museums open, saying “operational decisions, including allocations to individual branches, are a matter for the Science Museum Group”.

The economic and cultural impact of closing the NRM would be "devastating"
The economic and cultural impact of closing the NRM would be “devastating”

 

The letter in full

To The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP,
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

York, Bradford and Manchester councils are working together to ensure the Science Museums Group’s (SMG) current scale of operations and its national presence is maintained. Here in York, we are united in our concern that technological and academic progress and public understanding must not be compromised by the risk of closure of any of the Northern museums.

The SMG includes Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, Bradford’s National Media Museum and the National Railway Museum in York, as well as the Science Museum in London. It has immense national responsibilities, holding the United Kingdom’s National Collection in science and technology. Besides engineering, transport, medicine and media, the collection includes museum objects, library and archive collections. Under the terms of The National Heritage Act 1983, the Group is required to develop, manage and make these collections useful for the public, make them available for study and research, promote the public’s enjoyment and understanding of science and technology, and to commit to developing those subjects.

Besides being readily accessible to a population of 15 million, these three national science museums are vital to the current local economies: together they provide over 250 full-time equivalent jobs in Yorkshire and Lancashire.


The National Railway Museum (NRM) contributes hugely to the economic, cultural, social and educational wellbeing of York since it opened in 1975. It attracts 700,000 UK and international visitors annually who add at least £50m GVA to the city’s economy every year. As such, it is an essential component in the city’s plans to deliver a tourism strategy which aims to double the value of this sector in York in the next ten years.

The archive collection at the museums records the development of York as one of the earliest beneficiaries of a burgeoning railway network in the 1830s and is a key reason why the NRM is in York. Its archive and research facilities are used by thousands of people to study railways and ancestral history, while schools and family groups access the displays on the social history of the railway network over 200 years.

The NRM is at the centre of York’s cultural life. It has an internationally-recognised programme of events, an art gallery, and was the original venue for York Theatre Royal’s hugely successful and award-winning production of The Railway Children in 2009 while also playing a key role in the city’s Olympic Torch Relay festivities.

The Science Museum Group, which has already absorbed 25% cuts since 2010, has said that if an additional 10% is cut by the Government’s Spending Review, it would have little choice but to close one of the northern national science museums, since their year-on-year deficit would rise from £2 million to £6 million. This is something we cannot accept.



The NRM not only hosts priceless national collections but is in partnership to educate and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to drive the national and local economies and showcase the best of British research.



Government science policy needs to be more joined up and make an on-going commitment to funding across the scientific community. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has a £13m ‘science and society’ programme and spends its money on a plethora of initiatives, but not on the Science Museum Group. This does not make sense because the science museums are trusted by the public and teachers and have the best experience of presenting science with the greatest impact and reach across the country.



We are keen to encourage increased collaboration across all the national science museums and with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The science museums are important contributors to our national and local education, tourism and cultural offer, providing a very real indication of the Government’s commitment to science and technology and our national economic growth, particularly in the North of England.



It would be unthinkable even to consider closing national museums, like the Victoria and Albert or the National History Museum, in London. Why then does it appear to be acceptable to discuss potential closures of national museums in Northern cities?



The economic and cultural impact of closing a national science museum in Bradford, York or Manchester would be much more devastating in any one of these cities, than closing a London museum would be on the capital’s or indeed the nation’s economy.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr James Alexander, Leader of City of York Council
Cllr Sonja Crisp, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism
Rt Hon The Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Julie Gunnell
Kersten England, Chief Executive, City of York Council
Nicola Spence, Chief Executive, Science City York
Brian Cantor, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York
David Fleming, Vice Chancellor, York St. John University
Liz Philip, Principal, Askham Bryan College
Alison Birkinshaw, Principal, York College
Peter Brown, Director, York Civic Trust
Liz Wilson, Chief Executive, York Theatre Royal
Damien Cruden, Artistic Director, York Theatre Royal
Patrick Kelly, Chair, [email protected]
Delma Tomlin, Director, National Centre for Early Music
The Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of York
Claire Morrow, Chair, Welcome to Yorkshire
Gillian Cruddas, Chief Executive, Visit York
Susie Cawood, Head of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce at Leeds, York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce
Steve Hughes, Editor, York Press
Angela Darlington, UKL Chief Risk Officer, Aviva
Phil Verster, Route Managing Director, Network Rail
Andrew Follington, HSBC North Yorkshire Area Commercial Director
Juliana Delaney, Chief Executive, Continuum Group
Martyn Harrison, Chairman, S. Harrison Developments Ltd
Stuart Paver, Managing Director, Pavers Ltd
Ian McAndrew, Director, Helmsley Group
Mark Perkins, Chief Executive, Shepherd Group Built Environment
Neil Setterfield, Store Director, Fenwicks