PLANS for a £5m ‘gateway’ to the Weald and Downland Museum have been unanimously approved.
Members of the South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) planning committee were told the museum had reached a ‘tipping point’ with steadily decreasing visitor numbers and a need to ‘engage the next generation of visitors.’
The museum’s catering facilities and entrance have been cited as ‘inferior’.
But now planning specialists have come up with a new gateway connecting the story of rural living over the past 700 years with the 21st century.
It will consist of two clusters of buildings around an entry courtyard. On one side will be the entry to ticketing, gift shop and three interpretation areas.
Across the courtyard will be the cafe with seats for 80, covered seating, a new learning space, and housing for the biomass boiler.
The plan includes provision for 75 more car parking spaces.
Presenting his report Tim Bettany-Simmons said: “Economically the gateway project would provide a platform for attracting a wider audience, tackle the declining visitor numbers and generate income to help conserve the collection.”
Museum director Richard Pailthorpe told the meeting it was the most important development for the museum’s viability and sustainability since its foundation.
“Our visitor facilities have fallen way behind acceptable standards for a modern heritage attraction and that has affected our visitor numbers and key income streams.”
He said the new gateway would not only benefit the museum but also the local economy bringing in more than £2m of tourism and creating 105 jobs.
“I welcome this plan,” Charles Peck told fellow members. “For years I have been struck by the ambiguity, even the lack of confidence, in the present entrance arrangements to this marvellous museum and this is the right direction to go.”
He said the creation of 105 jobs was ‘not to be sneezed at’.
Doug Jones said the museum was a ‘jewel’ on an international level and much thought had gone into the gateway.
Commenting on the planning consent, museum director Richard Pailthorpe said: “We are delighted to have received this exciting news. The Gateway Project represents the most important development in terms of the museum’s long-term sustainability since its foundation. We now look forward to these plans becoming a reality and creating a better museum for everyone.”