The axe has been swung at Kirklees’ museums with the cherished Tolson Museum set to close.
Senior councillors reluctantly gave the green light to cultural cuts, shutting three of Kirklees’ five museums – and two could be shut by the end of this month.
Campaigners and Dewsbury councillors made an emotional plea for the council’s cabinet to delay the plan.
But council leader Clr David Sheard said the decision was effectively taken two years ago when voters elected the Conservative government, thus sanctioning their austerity agenda.
The cabinet says funding for Dewsbury Museum and Red House museum at Gomersal runs out in March next year but both could close by the end of this month. The future of Tolson museum is less clear with it set to stay open until the council comes up with an alternative venue in Huddersfield town centre.
It is proposed to also relocate Huddersfield art gallery from the top floor of Huddersfield central library to the new premises.
VIDEO: A tour round Tolson Museum
Oakwell Hall and Country Park and Bagshaw Museum in Batley are set to stay open.
The move is part of a plan to slash the “creative economy” budget from £1.2m to just £371,000 per year from April 2017.
The majority of the saving comes from cutting museums funding from £1m to £531,000.
The council’s cabinet agreed to move forward with the new vision, dubbed Culture Kirklees, which also cuts the council’s contribution to the Lawrence Batley Theatre along with arts and events grants to community and music groups.
At a cabinet meeting, campaigners from the Friends of Dewsbury Museum and Friends of Tolson Museum, made strong cases for the facilities to stay open.
Ann Denham, chairman of the Friends of Tolson Museum, said: “I understand the need to rejuvenate Huddersfield town centre but this is not the answer.”
Council officials say Tolson Museum at Ravensknowle Park needs £4.2m of repairs – a figure supporters dispute.
Mrs Denham added: “I understand the dilemma the council finds itself in but it’s difficult to see how abandoning a building that they own is going to save money compared to creating a new one.”
A campaigner for Dewsbury Museum said the town had already had the “stuffing knocked out of it” and the museum closure would relieve it of its “soul”.
Dewsbury councillor, Cathy Scott, said the move would be “catastrophic” for the town and urged the cabinet to resist the cuts.
But cabinet member for asset strategy, resources and arts, Clr Graham Turner, said the council’s hands were tied.
Clr Turner said most people did not realise how “stretched” the council’s finances were.
“I take no joy in this – absolutely none,” he said. “But we have to put people before places.”
The council says it is prioritising public services over retaining assets such as buildings.
Clr Turner said the council was open to discussions to finding new uses for the three premises.
And he offered a shred of hope to the Friends groups, saying he was willing to talk about alternative funding plans or asset transfers.
But they could be sold off if any private buyers come forward.