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Museum Working Group Holds First Meeting – Councillor Stands By Notice To Quit Decision

Guildford Museum 02The first meeting of a council working group to determine the fate of Guildford Museum was held on Monday (August 17).

The future of the museum is uncertain. The Surrey Archaeological Society (SAS) was, earlier this year, given notice to quit rooms in Castle Arch, which it has occupied for over 100 years.

It is understood that the society is reluctantly preparing to move in November before its January deadline.

As pressure on local authority budgets continues, Guildford Borough Council is hoping to reduce museum costs, currently reported to be over £380,000 per annum.

As expected, it was agreed at Monday’s meeting to invite other councillors from across the political spectrum to join the group. A museum specialist is also to be appointed.

Cllr Geoff Davis

Cllr Geoff Davis

Cllr Geoff Davis (Con, Holy Trinity), lead borough councillor for economic development, tourism and heritage, said in an email: “All options are on the table, and there is much to consider.”

Responding to a claim that SAS had been poorly treated Cllr Davis wrote: “Notice to terminate the 1953 lease was given seven years ago, well before my time.”

“We cannot find any formal request for a new lease from SAS during that period – they continued to enjoy the council’s generosity, in the process building up a substantial capital base.”

“I think that any professionally run organisation should establish the legal basis of the building they occupy as a priority, to ensure their security.

“…I did meet David Calow and [a] colleague, in an effort to sort out the arrangements. We were told, quite clearly, that there were 40 trustees, all of whom would have a different opinion. Also, the consultation process would take ‘many months’…”

“Of course, a properly run council cannot let a ‘holding over’ tenant in their building operate on a basis where they are not structured to make basic decisions about their own well-being, so the only proper option was to refresh the formal Landlord and Tenant Act notice to quit, to gain control.

“I have been a chartered surveyor for over 50 years, and always believed in ‘black and white’ arrangements, not the decidedly grey situation which had been allowed to continue in the museum.

“At the moment, a legal instrument is being prepared to establish a loan arrangement on the SAS exhibits in the museum after next January – without charge. That needs to be completed in very short order, so both sides are clear.

“After that, consideration will be given to the considerable quantity of SAS items in the Woking Road depot, where they are stored and cared for by GBC [Guildford Borough Council] on a currently rent-free basis. That cannot be correct, or fair for Guildford ratepayers.

“I gather that SAS are in the process of moving their offices and library now.

“Re. no. 48 Quarry Street, we now have a valuation from Clarke Gammon. [A council officer] is putting that figure to David Calow [secretary of the SAS], with a timetable to make a decision, one way or the other.”

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4 Responses to Museum Working Group Holds First Meeting – Councillor Stands By Notice To Quit Decision

  1. Mary Bedforth Reply

    August 20, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Who said?

    “Every government secretary of state or minister should jolly well go to the theatre, go to a concert, go to an art gallery, go to a museum, become somehow interested in these things.

    “If they’re not interested, they shouldn’t be in government, full stop.

    “You’re lacking a human dimension of some sort if you’re not interested in the arts.

    “And I think it’s a terrible fate to be ruled by philistines and barbarians as we seem to be at the moment.

    “The arts are beyond price, they’re beyond value, they’re of incalculable worth in what it means to be a human being.”

    It was Philip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials who is in the news at the moment. Ahead of the new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) launch he says no one should be in government if they don’t like art.

    See: http://news.sky.com/story/1538550/author-philip-pullman-uk-ruled-by-barbarians
    20 August, 2015

    But they had better not come to Guildford looking for an art gallery or museum.

  2. Gavin Morgan Reply

    August 20, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    On the one hand I applaud Mr Davis’s energy and desire to sort out lapsed legal arrangements.

    However, speaking as someone who has worked for BP and Unilever for many years, I know that “properly run organisations” do not boot out valued partners because both parties have forgotten to sort out the contractual arrangements.

    The lapsed tenancy arrangements at the museum are as much the borough’s fault (if not more so, as landlord) as the Surrey Archaeological Society’s.

    You only evict people you don’t want to work with and for all the grand words about “all options” being “on the table” I fear the eviction of the SAS tells us all we need to know about the borough’s plans for the museum.

    I sincerely hope I am wrong and welcome any clarification.

  3. Gordon Bridger Reply

    August 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

    As I understand it Cllr Davis was told to “sort out” out the museum by the council leader. This was not an unreasonable request as the museum has been a management mess for too long – but to interpret this as throwing out a voluntary organisation which for 100 years has been recording our history because of a rent issue, and then to be prepared to sell off all the buildings is in my view a gross misjudgement.

    The first step should be to investigate why visitor numbers have dropped, why we failed to get funding from the heritage lottery, why we have lost two of our best historians and archaeologists who have served us well, and who decided that we did not want to have a Surrey collection?

    Surely most councillors having recently and generously agreed to put £2.5m towards a museum improvement scheme (and back it up with another £1.5m) as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund application, never intended that it should effectively be closed down and valued buildings sold off?

    Gordon Bridger is an hon alderman and former mayor

  4. Mary Alexander Reply

    August 22, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Cllr Davis gives the unfortunate impression that he can only argue a case by insulting his opponents.

    Guildford Borough Council (GBC) gave the Surrey Archaeological Society (SAS) notice to quit about seven years ago in order to re-negotiate the lease. GBC did not bring the negotiations to a conclusion, despite requests to do so by the SAS.

    Of course there are no ‘formal’ requests to do this, but there would have been phone calls or emails. It is insulting to claim that the society enriched themselves by taking advantage of this.

    The agreement was never meant to be a commercial tenancy because both sides of the partnership acknowledged the mutual advantages of the situation. Everyone acknowledged that the rent had become low over the years, so there was not much scope for enrichment. In any case, most of the funds are from a bequest which has been carefully managed to support all of the society’s activities for the public.

    A further insult is to claim that the SAS is “not structured to make basic decisions about their own well-being”. This is not true: they are governed by charity and company law, which is very strict about these things. Obviously, they cannot make a swift decision about something so fundamental.

    Cllr Davis prefers ‘black and white’ arrangements, but the notice sent to the SAS was so badly worded it had to be issued three times, and is still ambiguous.

    Storing the Society’s collections along with the Museum’s was part of the legal agreement between the two parties. The benefit to the Museum is huge. It may be right to discuss this agreement, but it shouldn’t be done by evicting one partner first.

    Of course the Society are beginning their move: they have been given notice to quit. The notice is far too short and they have to make plans and spend money because there is no alternative.

    Unless, that is, the notice is withdrawn to allow for proper discussion. I sincerely hope that Cllr Davis will do this, and show an interest in the history and culture of this town.

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