AMBITIOUS plans to build a new multi-million pound Royal Marines Museum have been dealt a crushing blow after lottery bosses pulled the plug on a vital funding bid.
Chiefs at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have refused to pay out £12.9m for the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s (NMRN) SeaMore project – despite having previously offered £433,500 in 2016 to kick-start the plan.
The project includes the creation of a new state-of-the-art Royal Marines Museum and additional heritage attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The snub by the HLF has now cast doubt on whether the museum will ever reopen after its former base in Eastney was closed in April, 2017.
Heritage bosses at the NMRN have scrambled to put back-up plans into action and said they were ‘committed’ to creating the new tribute to the navy’s elite assault force.
But last night a top leader at the charity admitted the decision by the HLF would set the project back by ‘at least two years’ – if the organisation could even find the millions needed to pay for it.
Ros Kerslake, HLF chief executive, said: ‘We know this is difficult news for NMRN. We now have a high level of competition for grants at every stage of the grant application process and we are unable to support all the applications we receive. On this occasion, other projects more successfully demonstrated the case for investment and value for money.
‘We have invested over £55m in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to date and will continue to work closely with NMRN on the other projects we are supporting.’
The move has shocked residents in the city who now fear the entire project could collapse entirely.
Marine Gate resident Phil Saunders is a staunch supporter of the museum was ‘very concerned’ by the latest development. He said: ‘This will be disastrous for the city. I have been concerned about what will happen with the museum after it was closed in Eastney.
‘To hear that the NMRN has lost the grant for the new museum is really bad news. It’s very concerning.’
The museum had been earmarked for re-opening in 2020. However, this has now been pushed back to at least 2022.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of the NMRN, said the HLF’s decision was a bitter blow, adding: ‘We are very disappointed that our round two bid has been unsuccessful and it is a blow. But we understand that the funding landscape for HLF projects has changed. The HLF needed to make some very hard decisions and sadly we have suffered for this.
‘We had planned to open in April 2020. This will inevitably be delayed, probably for at least two years but it is too early to say for certain, when funding is secured we will proceed as quickly as possible.’
Since the decision, the board of trustees at the NMRN has been attempting to piece together a contingency plan, which includes a re-think of both costs and design of the future attraction.
They have already managed to cut the total cost to about £10m and secured £3m of this so far, with the sale of former Eastney site hoping to generate a further £2m.
But it means there is still a £5m black hole that the NMRN is desperate for the public and Royal Marines family to help them fill in order to make the project a reality.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, NMRN director general, said: ‘Now is the time for us all to lobby hard on the need for the Royal Marines to have a museum that is worthy of its 354-year and unique history that recalls the sacrifice and service of the countless thousands of Royal Marines who have supported the nation through the darkest times.
‘The message is simple; we have £5m and need £5m more to open the new museum.’
He added all the ‘bleak reasons’ why the museum had to move from Eastney hadn’t changed, saying the site was still ‘in the wrong place’ and the building was ‘unadaptable, leaks and is in a poor condition’ which put the collection at risk of being damaged if it remained.
The final events to take place at the former Eastney base of the museum will take place place in November.
Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, said: ‘I’ve been in to meet museum directors and staff about this and so I’m incredibly disappointed, especially having written to the HLF to give my backing to the funding bid.
‘I’m determined that this set-back doesn’t spell the end of the revamp or threaten Portsmouth’s status as the home of the museum – the story of our brave Marines deserves to be told and told in our city, the home of the Royal Navy.
‘We must keep our naval heritage where it was forged: in Portsmouth.’