Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)

MONDAY 26 OCTOBER 1998

MR MATHEW PRICHARD, MR ALUN THOMAS and MR COLIN FORD

Chairman

  120. Can we have a copy of that letter?
  (Mr Prichard) Yes[
3].

Ms Lawrence

  121. Obviously it is not going to be 7.5 million pounds but what do you anticipate spending to put a museum in place that will house a collection that will be effectively a national museum?
  (Mr Ford) I cannot give you an accurate figure because the decision to go to Swansea is relatively new but the existing buildings at Swansea, the space already available for us to occupy should we move into it and share them with Swansea, is four times the size of the building we closed in Cardiff Bay. The open air site, which started at 2.5 acres (and might go up to as much as 5.74 if we want it, which we would not in the first instance), is 25 per cent bigger than the open air space that we had in Cardiff Bay. So, even if we spend relatively little money, we move into Heritage buildings rather than a fairly poor quality modernish 70s building with a lot more space and surrounding land there. It would be possible, though I would not advocate it, to take the 4.5 million—and I must go back to the fact that the money we believe we have got for the whole operation is 7.5 million that is the figure constantly quoted in this letter—and join the two Heritage buildings together at Swansea and make a substantially effective refurbishment of the galleries they have got and to put our collections with them. I believe it would be possible to do that for 4.5 million pounds. I would hope that the Museum, helped by the Welsh Office and the Heritage Lottery Fund, will do something substantially better than that but it will depend on the funding raised. Subject to what you say about the Assembly and the no absolute guarantee about money promised by any government, however, we do have 4.5 million there to spend in Swansea which is already hugely bigger than anything we ever had before.
  (Mr Thomas) To clarify that, part of that is Heritage making up the 4.5 million.

Ms Morgan

  122. So this is dependent on another bid to the Lottery?
  (Mr Ford) No. The 4.5 million pounds is the remaining amount of money from the 7.5 million which is what we have got for the site. Of course, the Treasury or Assembly could decide to take it away from us but that is the money which we will have when we build the new Museum.

  123. The Treasurer agrees with that, does he?
  (Mr Thomas) Yes. I thought the answer was in respect of the assumption that you did not get the balance of 3 million. We might still say we will proceed in Swansea with what is left with the 4.5 million with some help from Heritage but I was answering a different question.

Mr Edwards

  124. Can I turn to the collections that were held at WIMM? What has happened to those? Where are they now? Are they all at Nantgarw? Have any of them been destroyed.
  (Mr Ford) A number of them are still on display at the Cardiff Docks Gallery at 126 Bute street though it is a very small gallery. The majority, the largest number of exhibits, have gone to Nantgarw, including the very many that were never accessible to anyone before. Reserve and research collections were not accessible and they are now. We have moved a number of items to the Museum of Welsh Life, those that were particularly appropriate to this Museum which gets far more visitors than any other Museum in Wales—for instance, alongside the Oakdale Miners' Institute you can now see a coal train with the liveries of many of the coal owners. We have moved some of the items more appropriate to the Welsh Slate Museum, an industrial museum on which, by the way, was spent 2.1 million pounds this year with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Some transport items have gone down to Barry, to the Wales Transport Experience, into the Heritage Skills Training Centre. We have moved a particular water pumping engine to the Hereford Waterworks—that is the only item that has gone outside Wales but gone through the good offices of Hyder. Hyder/Welsh Water are the main sponsors and funders of the Hereford Museum and were anxious to have that there. BABS has gone down to the Pendine Museum of Speed; some other engines have gone to Barry, to the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Society. There is one destroyed exhibit and that is the Sea Alarm tug, as is well known. That has a very interesting and rather long history. It was actually acquired—as my Head of Collections put it—almost by accident. When they were building WIMM they wanted a marine triple expansion engine and they went to the scrapyards to find one. They found one inside a boat which was the tugboat Sea Alarm. Basically a tugboat is a floating platform for a large engine. They decided on the whole they might just as well bring the boat to Cardiff Bay rather than merely the engine. This built up some long term problems—first of all, because at the time we acquired the boat the listed walls of the Oval Basin in which it was destined to float were beginning to suffer quite bad subsidence. A decision was made backed by Cadw that the best thing to do was to fill it in so it could not subside any more. This meant the Sea Alarm was landlocked and the problem was that, once you wanted to take it out again, there was very considerable expense involved. It has been very expensive to look after—there were 147 of these tugs built very quickly and very cheaply during the Second World War. It was not designed for long life and we have had to grit it right down to the base metal and repaint it with all the various coats of paint on at least two occasions so we have spent a great deal of money on conserving it. When it came to having to get it out, the best estimate we had of the costs of making it seaworthy and getting it out, cutting the canal, et cetera, were a quarter of a million pounds. We only wanted the engine; all the people we offered it to were not interested in spending a quarter of a million pounds. We could not do it without spending that because we could not get a licence to take it out to sea. Associated British Ports at Cardiff Bay and Barry were both asked if they could provide a home and they both said "No" unless it passed those tests and that money was spent—probably because one of these tugs started to sink in one of the locks into Cardiff Dock some years ago anyway. We are a member of the National Historic Ships Committee and this agreed that, because there were 60 of these tugs in existence all over the world, it was not something that that sort of money should be spent on and none of the museums could find a home for it. So, yes, we cut that up but we kept the engine. A long answer—I am sorry, but it is a long story.

  125. Yes. There has been some public disquiet about that decision—
  (Mr Ford) There is a tug boat floating outside Swansea Maritime Museum which will become part of that Museum—if we move there.

  126. It has also been put to us that other boats have been lost in recent years. Is this the case and in what circumstances were they lost?
  (Mr Ford) Apart from a couple of boats in quite bad condition which we did write off, two being destroyed in a storm and one being vandalised, small boats which were not considered worthy of display (underlining the point about the quality of our storage) I am not aware of any boats being disposed of in my directorship.
  (Mr Thomas) One ended up in North Wales. It was a North Wales boat moved from the sites in Cardiff to Caernarfon, many years ago.

Ms Morgan

  127. I think Mr Edwards has put forward quite strongly the fact that there has been a lot of public disquiet about the destruction of the Sea Alarm. I know Mr Ford has spent some time trying to diminish its importance and justifying its destruction and keeping of the engines; nevertheless it does seem to me that to keep the inside of the boat without the outside is a very poor substitute. This sort of incident really does reflect very badly on the Museum because actually destroying this boat did bring home to so many people the consequences of what you have done with the site of that Museum. It is very disturbing.
  (Mr Ford) I am sorry that you feel that. If any exhibit goes one has to think very carefully. As someone responsible for National Museum collections for thirty three years you think very carefully before you do it. Two points I would like to add: the boat had no connection with Wales at all. It said "Bristol" in large words on it but it was actually built in Sunderland. It operated in many ports throughout Britain and it came to Bristol at the end of its career and, as far as I know, its only connection with Wales was to come into Barry to be scrapped. Secondly, you have been asking us about whether we are investing our 7.5 million pounds wisely, would it have been wise to spend a quarter of a million plus the cost then of continuing to conserve it and store it somewhere? My answer was "No".

  128. My answer to you is that, if it comes to you by accident, you do not seem to think it is of much worth.
  (Mr Ford) As I have told you, we have sanded and gritted down and repainted, with all the costs of marine painting, at least twice—to my knowledge. That is a big expenditure.

  Ms Morgan: As you know, this has upset a lot of people very interested in this field in South Wales. It has caused a lot of disquiet and upset.

Ms Lawrence

  129. You mentioned earlier the sum of 2.2 million spent on the site at Nantgarw. Is it in operation now?
  (Mr Ford) Yes. It has been filled because we have just completed the move of everything from Cardiff Bay from the Welsh Industrial Maritime Museum and the other five sites around Cardiff Bay for temporary storage, some of them with the help of Cardiff Bay Development Corporation. As part of striking the deal they wanted us to move out of those anyway but we wanted to put them into better storage so we have moved everything in but it is not yet operating as a fully open accessible store. That will take further months because we have stuffed them all in pretty quickly on carefully designed and built shelves and so on. It will never be like a museum. Even when it is operating properly it will be a place where you keep your reserve and research collections for people who have special interests to visit. It will not be telling the story of industrial and maritime Wales.

  130. You mentioned the amount of the cost of the site—the amount out of the 4.5 million that it has cost. To bring it up to the standards you want, even as a store not as an operating museum, how much more is that going to cost?
  (Mr Ford) It will all be done within the 3 million budget I mentioned earlier and we intend to have it finished by the end of this calendar year.

  131. Can you tell us precisely when you decided to buy it?
  (Mr Ford) Yes. When we first realised we would have to find somewhere to store the collection because we were likely to have to move out of the site before moving into anywhere else, we thought the right option was to go for a five years' rental. We started to explore the possibilities of stores on short term rental last October. We investigated a number of properties and came up with the one we most liked. It was the only one really that satisfied our standards of quality in terms of environmental control and accessibility, and we then ran into the problem that, although it had been put onto the market as a possible five year lease, the owners decided we could only have it for ten years. When we assessed the cost of renting for ten years we discovered the cost of buying one was much the same or very similar. We were shown three other buildings but none of those again satisfied the requirements of accessibility or quality of environmental control. We then decided we had better go for the purchase of a building—partly because, of course, that then gave us a permanent building and we would have this store for ever. On 11 March this year, therefore, getting very close to the date when we thought we were going to have to close, the project group here recommended that we should buy Nantgarw and that was what was accepted on 17 March.
  (Mr Prichard) But we did not sign the contract until—
  (Mr Ford) I have to go back through the Council minutes.
  (Mr Prichard) It was June sometime.
  (Mr Ford) We could not sign the contract until we had a contract for the sale of WIMM.

  132. So bearing in mind you knew you were going to have to look for another site, did you look for this site as a reaction for the sudden requirement to sell for 7.5 million pounds? Was it not rather a hasty decision? There was no advance work done. Would it not have been appropriate to go out to public consultation, for example, on the location of the site at Nantgarw?
  (Mr Prichard) The answer is that, ever since I have been President and ever since Colin has been Director, it has been an absolute imperative for this Museum to improve its storage facilities. Before this whole situation arose, we thought we were going to have to make another bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for adequate storage facilities. When this situation arose, we saw the opportunity of using the move from the WIMM site and part of the money we used for its sale to accelerate the process of getting adequate storage facilities for the Museum. I do not think it is at all fair to say that this was a hasty decision. Storage facilities do not make the headlines like new industrial management. They are equally important to a Museum like ourselves; we will never get anyone to leave us items in our will if we do not have adequate storage facilities to keep them. What happened on this occasion was a very pragmatic decision to use part of the money that suddenly became available for the desperate need for this Museum.

  133. Did that require Welsh Office approval?
  (Mr Prichard) Yes.
  (Mr Ford) Any acquisition to the estate requires that.

  134. Is the Nantgarw site then just functioning instead of WIMM or is it intended to be a collection centre for the whole Museum?
  (Mr Ford) It is currently only operating for WIMM because that was the urgent requirement and the WIMM collections plus those dotted in the sites around the Bay get very close to filling it up. As I think I said earlier, when the new Museum opens in Swansea, a considerable amount of that will go down to Swansea and that will free up space for all the items that need storage from our other sites. We were able to buy for the target price enough land so we could effectively double the size of the store, if and when it was required.

  135. So effectively part of the capital that was WIMM is being moved, if you like to another part of the Museum for the requirements of the main part of the Museum?
  (Mr Ford) In the long run you could say that but we would have spent that much money to rent somewhere for the period if we had spent the money for Cardiff Bay simply on renting a site. Yes, we could have said "We have not spent the money anywhere but on the Industrial and Maritime Museum", but I cannot see it is improper to say, at the end of that period, that we have actually got a bonus for the rest of the Museum's activities.

  136. But can you see that, as a result of those actions, the feeling in Wales is that the industrial and maritime heritage of the country is not being taken care of by the National Museum and that they appear to have a preference for fine arts and art work and are giving a lesser credence to Wales as a maritime and industrial heritage?
  (Mr Ford) I am sorry if the people of Wales think that. I find it very difficult to believe because we have, for the first time in the history of the industrial collections, put them into really first class storage conditions. Why should we think that, therefore, somehow proves we are not interested in the industrial collections? The storage conditions are a lot better than some of the storage conditions we have in the basement of this building or at St Fagan's, for instance. It is of great importance that we give all our collections the highest standards of professional museum storage and conservation. That is what we do.

  137. One last point: you say that the collection from WIMM will not now be available for the general public to see, or only occasionally.
  (Mr Ford) For a few years. If we had built a new Museum on the WIMM site it would have been closed for three years. I cannot tell you how long it is going to take to develop the Museum at Swansea because it is such a new decision but it is probably going to be something like three years. Meanwhile collections are available for those who urgently need to see them and a lot of the most high profile and popular items are on display in other places.

Ms Morgan

  138. Just going back to the sites in Cardiff, in your memorandum you imply that not getting a satisfactory site in Cardiff was the fault of CBDC; that they offered sites away from the waterfront, and did not tell you how large the sites were. Would you suggest that CBDC were not very keen on having the Industrial Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay?
  (Mr Prichard) No. I hope that the words "the fault of CBDC" do not appear in the memorandum and I do not consider it was the fault of CBDC. All CBDC can do is to offer us sites that they think might be suitable for a replacement Industrial and Maritime Museum that are, for one reason or another, available on such terms as they are available and that is what the Development Corporation did. I am absolutely convinced that, if there had been other, more suitable, sites available they would have offered those to us. The Development Corporation did all they could to ensure that any possible site was available to us if we considered it suitable. What we did in the earlier part of this year was to have a consultation exercise with everywhere in Wales which ended up in us comparing sites from various different parts of Wales. After that exercise, we reached a decision.

  139. In relation to that decision, your memorandum particularly refers to Swansea City Council's enthusiastic support for WIMM. What comments have you got about Cardiff, then?
  (Mr Prichard) At the beginning of the consultation exercise we distributed to all interested bodies copies of our consultation document. In most cases, including Cardiff, those were acknowledged and, in many cases, like Swansea and Gwynned County Council and various others, we received positive responses and offers of alternative sites—as we did from the Development Corporation and the private concerns in the Bay. We received no relevant offer, it is fair to say, from Cardiff County Council except, I think, a general expression of support if we were to locate in their area.


3  See Evidence, page 31. Back

 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 4 March 1999