Hereford’s planned new library will be “this administration’s white elephant” that could “morph into a bottomless pit”, an opposition councillor has warned.

Councillors last Friday debated the council’s planned £8.5 million contribution to two of the city's Stronger Towns Fund projects: £500,000 for the Maylord Orchards Library and Learning Resource Centre in the current shopping centre, and £8 million for the Hereford Museum and Art Gallery on Broad Street which currently houses the city’s main library.

In all, the council has put the cost of the museum refurbishment at £18 million and the library relocation and renovation at £3.5m. It has bid for a government grant of £5m for the museum and £3m for the library, as well as £5m from the National Lottery for the museum.

Making his warning, Conservative councillor Nigel Shaw said Maylords could go the same way as West Bromwich’s The Public arts venue, which cost £72 million but which Sandwell Council had to close after five years in 2013 as it could not afford the running costs.

And he asked for “assurance that this project’s revenue implications have been fully costed”.

The council’s chief financial officer Andrew Lovegrove replied: “It has been fully costed.

“I can’t give a 100 per cent guarantee that it will deliver. But I can give an assurance that we will monitor very closely and report on its performance when it is up and running.”

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Coun Shaw also described the museum project as “a city-centric investment coming from the countryside”, as the £8 million council contribution “comes from the sale of the county farms”.

True Independents leader Coun Bob Matthews said the 75,000 people a year forecast to visit the museum was “an awful lot of people” and questioned the basis for this.

Cabinet member for procurement and assets Coun Gemma Davies said the figure was based on “similar-sized museums with similar attractions”, and added she thought it was “quite conservative”.

The Herefordshire Horde, which the council hopes to eventually house in the new museum, “has created so much interest around the world” and would be “a springboard for talking about history more interactively”, she added.

The council is meanwhile attempting recruit a museum director to “engage across the world, rather than this just being a Herefordshire thing”, she said.

Non-aligned councillor Jim Kenyon said: “I welcome this, but I feel it’s putting the icing on a cake that hasn’t been made.

“Residents just want to get around the city. We could have tapped into the Stronger Towns for a new city bridge and better infrastructure.”

Coun Davies replied: “There were very clearly defined criteria for what projects could go ahead under Stronger Towns.

“The idea that it could have been used for an eastern bridge, or to get our potholes fixed, is a fairy tale.”

Coun Shaw and one other abstained from the vote on the funding proposal, which otherwise received councillors’ support.

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