The end of free entry: York residents to be charged to enter museums and gallery

A free trip to Kirkgate in the Castle Museum may be restricted to a few days a year under the new plans. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
21 Jul 2015 @ 8.38 pm
| News

A great big fat perk of living in York looks set to come to an end.

Until now, residents could get a year’s free access to the York Castle Museum, the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery for the price of a YorkCard, currently £3.

To change that and start charging residents, the York Museums Trust – which runs all three – must gain permission from City of York Council.

It has asked to do just that – and the council looks set to agree.

The trust had already announced plans to charge adults £7.50 to visit the refurbished art gallery when it reopens on August 1; and to introduce a YMT card, cost £22, to give one adult year-round access to its venues.

Under proposals being scrutinised by councillors next week, YorkCard holders would get a discounted YMT card – but still have to pay £17 a year.

Otherwise residents will have to pay normal entry price on each visit.

The council’s options

The Yorkshire Museum. Photograph © Richard North on Flickr
The Yorkshire Museum. Photograph © Richard North on Flickr

At the decision session for the executive member for culture, leisure and tourism on July 29, councillors will be presented with three options:

  1. to agree to the trust’s request
  2. to agree to the request but with conditions, or
  3. to continue to insist on free access for YorkCard holders.

Option 3 would have major financial consequences for the council, warns assistant director Charlie Croft in his report.

He said the museums trust based their business plan on the understanding that the council would end free entry for York residents by the time the art gallery reopened on August 1.

Mr Croft says that if the council is not willing to end free entry for residents, it could cost the city £700,000 per year.

He writes:

This cannot be recommended in light of the council’s future budget position.

It should be noted that, should YMT not be able to continue to operate the museums and gallery its staff and obligations would revert to the council, creating a potential multi-million pound liability.

What about option 2 – agree to bring in the £17 residents’ card but with conditions?

In negotiations with Cllr Nigel Ayre, executive member for leisure, culture and tourism, the trust has suggested it would be willing to agree to two concessions…

  1. Kids Go Free, allowing free access for children under 16, and
  2. continued free access for York residents during the two-day Residents Festival and on one further day to be specified.

Cllr Ayre said:

I am pleased that as a result of these discussions there is an option to offer free access to the Art Gallery and Castle Museum for YorkCard holders during the Residents’ Festival and one further day as well as all year-round free access to under 16s.

The financial pressures

Chief executive of York Museums Trust Janet Barnes outside York Art Gallery. Photograph: Richard McDougall
Chief executive of York Museums Trust Janet Barnes outside York Art Gallery. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Due to funding pressures, the council’s annual grant to the YMT has reduced from £1.5m in 2012/13 to £600,000 in 2015/16, a 60% cut.

The trust’s revenue funding is nearly £1m per year less than it was just two years ago because of budget cuts from central government.

YMT is faced with further serious cuts in funding.

But it is also investing heavily in its venues. Since it came into being in 2002, the trust has raised about £16m which it has invested in the council’s buildings, gardens, public programmes and collections.

Outgoing trust chief executive Janet Barnes said the investment would continue:

Future plans also include extending Yorkshire Museum by creating a new temporary exhibition gallery in the basement currently used as a museum store.

YMT is also planning to create a brand new visitor attraction at York St Mary’s which will tell the history of York using the latest technology.

The longer term plan will be improving York Castle Museum to create museum facilities appropriate for the 21st century.

All these projects “will celebrate the importance of York and we will need the support of the city council and local residents to achieve them,” she said.