Cardiff Council will foot some of the cost for the Military Medicine Museum’s controversial move to the city, according to a “confidential” business plan seen by Nation.Cymru.
Council leader Huw Thomas has assured residents that the authority would not spend public money on the Museum amid concerns over the financial viability of the project following the closure of the Dr Who Experience despite a £1 million Council grant.
“I can’t stress this enough, Cardiff Council will not be contributing financially either to the museum relocating, or to their ongoing revenue costs,” Thomas wrote on Twitter.
But a copy of the Museum’s business plan released under the freedom of information act reveals that the Council will pay for one of the most contentious elements of the plan.
“The cost of removing the existing listed building (lock keepers house) is to be covered by the Council,” states the document.
The grade-II listed building, known affectionately as ‘Lockeys Cottage’, is situated in the middle of the Tiger Bay site where the five-storey museum is set to be built next year.
Councillors gave planning permission for the Museum in December subject to it fulfilling conditions including the removal and reconstruction of the Lock Keepers Cottage.
Its removal from its current site has been described as “terrible” and “unnecessary” by residents who submitted objections to the scheme.
Nerys Lloyd-Pierce, chair of Cardiff Civic Society, said the listed building “should remain in its current location where it has context and significance. Relocating it to make way for development is deeply inappropriate.”
Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty this week backed the campaign to stop the plans, saying: “This [is] not the right place, we fought hard to protect this green space – let’s find [an] alternative location.”
Thirteen of the business plan’s 32 pages have been redacted, but the document marked “confidential” does offer some insight into how the Museum expects to fund its move and running costs.
The Museum has already announced it expects to attract 225,000 paying visitors by its second year, which would make it the sixth most visited paid attraction in Wales.
The business plan shows they expect to maintain those visitor numbers for at least another four years afterwards, bringing in between £1.5 million to £2 million through ticket sales annually.
Those projections have been described as “wild” by Sara Huws, the co-founder of London’s East End Women’s Museum and former National Museum of Wales curator.
“I have spent a long time looking at footfall/museum visitor numbers for the same purpose and it just doesn’t seem to be based in reality for me,” she wrote.
The Museum’s latest accounts show it makes just £74,034 a year in shop sales. But its business plan for its Cardiff site, to be named ‘the Britannia Building’, includes projected retail revenue of between £500,000 and £1 million a year.
The plan also sets out how the Museum expects its unique military-themed catering to “contribute significantly” to revenue.
Alongside a photo of soldiers eating on wooden benches, it outlines how “the MMM will offer ‘Mess Hall’ type catering with uniformed staff and will offer a varied and changing menu that will reflect conflicts and innovations of the past. Families can eat and drink from tin trays and cups and experience life on the front line.”
The Museum also expects to host at least 96 events for outside organisations in its first year and draw in visitors with its own special events, such as a “military art exhibition.
Fifty jobs will be created, according to the plan. However, it was drawn up before the Covid crisis struck.
The Museum’s management has since admitted it is “rethinking” elements of the plan in light of the pandemic.
“It is clear that we need to revisit our business plan and look at several of the assumptions that were made, that will likely not hold up in the post-Covid world,” wrote one Museum representative in an email obtained through a separate freedom of information request.
Although planning permission has been granted, the Reclaim Cardiff campaign has started a campaign to persuade Council leader Huw Thomas not to sell the land earmarked for development.