The multi-million pound Milton Keynes Museum expansion WILL go ahead despite an unexpected refusal of lottery funding.
Museum bosses were banking on £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery fund towards the £7.5 million cost of building two new galleries at its Wolverton base.
One gallery will house the treasure trove of Bronze age, Roman and Saxon archaeological finds dug up when the city was being built.
All these items have been stuck in vaults or on display in museums up to 30 miles away for almost half a century.
This week Milton Keynes council pledged to keep its promise to fund more than £5 million of the expansion cost.
Officers have been working with the museum and other heritage partners for two years to plan the purpose-built extension,
Ironically this planning phase was funded with a £0.5 million grant from Lottery Heritage Funding – specifically because it recognised the need for such a facility in MK.
Now, with building work due to start this year, LHF has announced a sudden change of heart.
An LHF spokesman said: “We recognise the potential for this project to bring together the story of the MK area from prehistoric times to the present day but our committee felt the risks were too high to justify committing National lottery players’ money.”
The spokesman said there was a “lack of clarity” about how the project would be managed, and the plans were not considered to be of the standard expected to justify such funding.
But museum director Bill Griffiths is already vowing staunchly that work on the galleries will go ahead as planned, and he will be seeking “clever ways” to plug the funding gap.
He said: “The museum refurbishment/expansion project is still very much needed for Milton Keynes as a growing city and we and our partners remain wholly committed to seeing it through.
“HLF’s decision not to help fund stage 2 is a blow, but we have plenty of ideas for alternative investment over the next 18 months to meet the shortfall without any additional money from the Council.”
While the first gallery will bring thousands of local historical artefacts under the one roof, the second will tell the complete story of the building of Milton Keynes.
Cllr Liz Gifford, Cabinet member for Community Services, which includes the arts, museums and libraries, said: “Of course we have to be very mindful of the council’s tough current financial position and we have to be able to achieve this exciting project with the minimal outlay to taxpayers. But there are opportunities for other funding and there are many local stakeholders out there who also want this project to happen.
“A fully-fledged ‘Milton Keynes centric’ museum has always been in the ‘masterplan’ for the new city – so we owe it to ourselves, as well as past and future generations, to have a museum that will do the rich heritage and history of Milton Keynes justice.”
The partnership is currently reviewing the project and meeting this week to agree a new way forward.