Opinion divided over St Albans Museum move plans

PUBLIC opinion has been divided over the council’s decision to relocate the Museum of St Albans to the Town Hall.

The proposals, revealed by the Herts Advertiser earlier this month, were agreed by St Albans District Council (SADC) at a cabinet meeting last Thursday.

The council’s 10 year vision for the service is to create two state-of-the-art museums; one to showcase the city’s Roman history and the other to chart the story of St Albans from the post Roman and Medieval period, up to the present day.

The plans will see the Grade II* Town Hall developed into a new museum over the next five years in a bid to boost visitor numbers.

The council argued that the existing facility in Hatfield Road suffered from its location outside the city centre and its inflexible layout.

Under the plans, Verulamium Museum is to be expanded and improved over the next 10 years to provide more exhibition space and educational facilities.

Cabinet also agreed that officers should look into the merits of disposing of the building currently housing the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA) to help raise funds to facilitate the developments.

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Councillor Mike Wakely, Portfolio Holder for Sports, Leisure and Heritage, said: “Cabinet has agreed a new vision for St Albans’ museums that will help them both attract more visitors and contribute to the local economy.

“The exciting plans for the Museum of St Albans will breath fresh life into the Town Hall and mean that more space can be devoted to explaining the post-Roman history of the City in its entirety. The existing museum fails to pay full regard to this history and is located in an inflexible building that is out of the way.”

Many residents have contacted the Herts Advertiser to express their delight at the plans.

Audrey Pollok, from Harpenden, said: “At last. It’s a brilliant idea to move the museum to the old Town Hall. People will use it much more if they don’t have to walk to Hatfield Road.”

But others have raised concerns about the integrity of the council’s plans.

A former member of staff at the MOSTA said: “Previous reports undertaken by professional consultants on a move to the Town Hall have suggested that this is not the best option for the Museum of St Albans.

“Whilst I welcome any investment in the Museum Service and the Town Hall, I do not see any evidence in this proposal of proper informed consultation, both from interested parties in the local community and from professional museum consultants.”

Vanessa Gregory, project manager of the recently launched Look! St Albans campaign, said: “Many short-sighted councils have sadly slashed their museums services so commitment to investment is indeed welcome.

“The Town Hall is a vastly under-used space, with its own history which has huge potential to enhance our civic pride. The extension to Verulamium Museum on the face of it sounds really good news too. However the vision report presented last week seemed to be very rushed and full of uncertainties, with numerous errors.

“This is one time when I feel instead of full steam ahead, steady as she goes would be more appropriate, until a full feasibility study is carried out, to see what the council have in mind can really work.”