Councils could team up in £12.9m deal to store historic items

Fareham Community Hospital in Salisbury Green

Picture: Paul Jacobs

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MORE than two million pounds could be spent on a new store for some of Portsmouth’s historic relics.

Portsmouth City Council is considering a scheme which would see it pay £2.52m towards a £12.9m facility which would house artefacts and archives owned by it, Hampshire County Council and Southampton and Winchester City Councils.

It is one of a number of possibilities being weighed up, as the council looks to improve its storage of thousands of items not currently on display in its six museums.

Its head of culture, Councillor Lee Hunt, said: ‘There are a number of reasons to look at this. We want to have the best possible storage space, and the other three councils have expressed an interest in joint working. We just want to make sure our items are safe, and kept in the best possible condition.’

The city has 3,340 items on display in its six museums, but has more than 30,000 in storage at any time.

At present, many of the items, which range from furniture and paintings to a sea shelter, are stored at Hilsea, which the council believes is ‘adequate’ for the purpose.

It spends around £30,000 per year on the facility.

But its official archive is in a building suffering from subsidence, and many items are scattered between several other buildings across the city.

As a result, a completely new, purpose-built facility has attracted interest from council officers.

Cllr Hunt said: ‘It’s just one option, but it’s an attractive one. The new building would be well ventilated, and would mean we could be sure our items were well looked-after and were ready and available when we needed them.

‘The Hilsea buildings are old Victorian builds and they do have some humidity issues. A new building could be a good solution to that.

‘We’d also be able to have the items more easily accessible, and it could be a signpost for the city’s museum and archive offers. It also means we and the other authorities can use each others’ resources. But the cost is something which will raise some concerns.’

Alternatives to the scheme include leaving things as they are, though council officers advise against this, because they fear a deterioration of the city’s stores could see the Arts Council of England declare the council an unsafe and improper custodian.

If the Arts Council did that, it could mean the city would have less access to cash from bodies such as Heritage Lottery. Other alternatives include developing the main museum store at Hilsea.

Cllr Hunt said: ‘In some cases, the buildings we have items in make it difficult to access them. It’s not ideal, so we hope to find a solution soon.’