Plan to close Captain Cook Birthplace Museum on hold amid opposition

The museum opened in 1978 and tells the life story of Captain Cook. Credit: Teesside Live

A controversial proposal to close the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum has been put on hold amid strong public opposition.

Thousands of people signed a petition against the plan to close the Stewart Park visitor attraction as part of Middlesbrough Council’s draft budget proposals.

Following public consultation, the local authority looks set to defer any further decision while alternative options are explored.

Potential ways to future-proof the museum include using an alternative third party provider, says the council, while volunteers have also come forward to help.

Meanwhile, the plans to introduce parking charges at the park have been scrapped altogether.

The changes to the budget proposals come after a month-long public consultation which attracted more than 1,100 responses online. This is the highest number received by the council in the past five years.

The museum, close to Cook’s birthplace cottage, opened in 1978 and tells the explorer’s life story through galleries, temporary exhibitions and events.

The proposed closure of the museum would have saved the council £345,000 over the next two years.

Middlesbrough Mayor, Chris Cooke, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the museum closure was readdressed due to the depth of feeling against the plans. As reported a petition was launched and signed by more than 8,000 people.

Mr Cooke said he attended meetings about the plans and the feedback was taken on board. He said: “There was a real strength of feeling about this proposal but it was more of a willingness of people coming together to make other suggestions and 20 volunteers have come forward to help.”

The changes will be considered by the executive at a meeting next week before full council makes the final decision in March.

Under the proposals, council tax rise would still be set at the maximum 4.99% increase while fortnightly waste collections and a £40 annual charge for green waste collection would be introduced across the town.

It comes as the cash-strapped council continues to battle to balances it books. All councils are legally required to ensure the budget is balanced by March, and expenditure is not more than income.

In January the executive of the council agreed to seek exceptional financial support from the Government of £15m in a last ditch bid to avoid a section 114 notice. However the final Local Government Finance Settlement in February included an additional £1.6m to be spent on adult and children’s social care.

This reduced the council’s budget gap from £6.3m to £4.7m, and means the council was in a position to reduce the request from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to £13.4m. A decision is expected next week.

The risk of a section 114 notice still stands at the council if the exceptional financial support is insufficient or refused.

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