Representatives of the Military Medicine Museum privately admitted parts of its business plan for a controversial move to Cardiff “will not hold up” in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The admission was made in an email exchange between the museum and Cardiff and Vale Health Board which has been published in partly redacted form following a freedom of information request seen by Nation.Cymru.
“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,” they wrote in April.
The museum did not specify which areas of the business plan have been affected but a separate email from the same month revealed doubts about how the museum would be paid for.
It states: “At the moment we are looking to finalise options for our fundraising strategy, in advance of hearing from Cardiff Council about the planning application.
“Until we have that in place, we cannot formally launch our fundraising campaign, having little concrete to fundraise against. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are also rethinking elements of the proposition.”
The exchange comes amid concerns about the financial viability of the project which is based on attracting 175,000 paying visitors in 2023 and 225,000 by 2024. That would make it the sixth most visited paid attraction in Wales, according to government figures.
But Visit Britain data shows the Military Medicine Museum received just 10,000 visitors in 2017 at its current site at a barracks in Aldershot where entry is free – down by 7,000 compared to 2015.
“If public subsidy is not provided, there is a serious risk that the Museum will not be viable and will have to close, leaving an empty building on what is today a valued park. It may not even be completed,” wrote resident Lyn Eynon in a detailed 32-page analysis of the project.
Butetown councillor Saeed Ebrahim, poet Mererid Hopwood and Cardiff Civic Society chair Nerys Lloyd-Pierce are also among the 31 people who have submitted formal letters of objection or concern about the project to Cardiff Council’s planning department.
But the museum’s representatives dubbed arguments made by objectors as “fake news” in an email to the health board in October.
It said: “I wanted to contact you again with reference to some of the misinformation about, and misrepresentation of, our project to relocate to Cardiff covered by the local press, which, in spite of putting out a press release to counteract this fake news, is continuing to circulate.
“I have noticed recently that Cardiff Council’s planning department is being fed this misinformation by objectors to the project… Although most of the objections are not valid planning considerations we fear that the objections are placing doubts in the minds of the planning committee members.”
The museum’s representatives asked the health board to submit a letter of the support to the Council, saying it “would do wonders to refute a lot of the claims being made about us”.
Cardiff Council subsequently received a letter of support for the project from the chief executive of the Cardiff and Vale Health Board, Len Richards.
It says: “The Health Board has a strong commitment to the military covenant and over the last two years, has developed a strong relationship with the Military Medicine Museum team.
“Incorporated into the plans for the Museum is a hub for the wellbeing of veterans, led by a dedicated clinical academic psychiatrist and clinical psychologist.”
The email exchange shows the plan was originally due to be considered by Cardiff Council in March. It was delayed, probably due to the pandemic, and a new date has not yet been set.
“Ultimately this is a planning issue, and the sooner the council can schedule the planning committee meeting the sooner we can get on with our plans,” the museum representative wrote in June.
Ahead of any hearing, museum director Jason Semmens has written to councillors to promise the museum will be a “world class visitor attraction.”
“A world-class innovation hub and visitor centre will give us the ability to tell our story through education and engagement, which will in turn inspire the next generation of leaders and medical professionals to help save and change lives,” he added.
The museum has appointed Cardiff-based public relations company Working Word to help win round the community, while London PR firm Isobel are acting as “brand consultants” and working to “help to raise the necessary funding.”
A second military museum, the Army Music Museum, could also move to the site in a bid to boost visitor numbers, Nation.Cymru has previously reported.