THE first step has been taken towards providing the city with a major new indoor visitor attraction and facilities for contemporary visual arts.
The museum, archive and gallery centre would replace the Grosvenor Museum, St Michael’s heritage centre and the Cheshire and Chester Archive Services.
It would also meet the needs of the University of Chester for a visual arts exhibition space.
It follows a report to the Town Hall Executive from Cllr Eric Plenderleath (Con, Tarvin), executive member for culture and community, which recommended a final brief should be drawn up for a feasibility study into the project, part of the Chester Renaissance programme, by May.
Councillors agreed a bid should be made to the Northwest Regional Development Agency for funding of £30,000 to enable the study to go ahead.
The report recognised that the brief should go to the new shadow unitary council and that if the project was to go ahead before April 2009, it would be likely the approval of the shadow authority would be needed.
The Town Hall executive agreed to work with the shadow authority to progress the project. The study will only proceed if the funding bid is successful with the outcome due to be known in September.
A review of the Grosvenor Museum in 2007 put forward a series of recommendations which could only be met by new build either at the current museum or by creating a new centre elsewhere in the city.
In their review, city councillors Norman Stainthorp (Lab, Blacon Hall) and Ken Holding (Lib Dem, Vicars Cross) concluded that if the museum was to have aspirations of national, European or even worldwide status, it should begin to deal with the shortcomings they found.
They added: “When considering a location for a museum of international stature, it may be worthwhile to identify a site away from a city centre that offers a one-level visitor experience with ample car and coach parking.”
They commented that if the Grosvenor Museum was to be regarded as “a strictly provincial museum displaying and interpreting local finds”, it could be judged satisfactory given the limitations of the two small Georgian and Victorian buildings it occupies.
At the present museum, they identified a number of issues including the need for improved visitor, coach and car parking and coach drop-off arrangements, better access to displays on the upper floors, proper refreshment facilities and facilities for visiting researchers to have proper access to items not on display to the public.
Last autumn, the executive agreed that initial work should begin on a feasibility study for a new joint facility.
Cllr Plenderleath says the existing services operate from buildings which are not fit for the 21st Century.
A new joint project would bring the city and county heritage services together in partnership with the university.
Councillors heard that in 2006/07, the archive service had 8,000 visitors, St Michael’s heritage centre attracted 15,000 and the Grosvenor Museum had 90,000 visitors and more than 170,000 users of whom more than 22,000 were pupils.
Possibilities already under consideration by a team of city and county council staff, who have produced a draft brief, include the benefits of a temporary exhibition gallery.
No figures for the cost of a joint facility have been disclosed although the Grosvenor Museum is said to be valued at an estimated £4m and St Michael’s at £1m.
The Record Office in Duke Street is said to be worth £1.2m.