Revised designs for a state-of-the-art regional museum on the seafront - to be known as The Thames Estuary Experience - were due to conclude by the end of 2018.
However, an independent technical review of plans by a specialist architecture firm drafted in by the Council, Hawkins Brown, has since confirmed that the existing museum plans would not deliver what was required. Further, a building in that location suitable for housing the significant finds from the Prittlewell Prince and the London Shipwreck would likely cost in the region of £55 million, instead of the previous £40 million estimate.
Cllr Lesley Salter, cabinet member for culture, said. “A state-of-the-art visitor attraction of this nature would be an amazing opportunity for Southend. However, the council has been very clear from the outset that any funding would have to be raised by a board of trustees and would not be met by council tax-payers.
“The £40m was an ambitious task. For this figure to rise to £55m before a single brick has been laid is an unpleasant but necessary wake-up call. It demonstrated to us that we just cannot justify proceeding with this particular plan.
“Our aspiration to provide a world-class museum in the town, showcasing the Thames Estuary’s rich heritage and contribution to the history of Britain, remains unaltered. But not in this location and not with this price tag.
“I would like to thank Hawkins Brown for their work on this project, which is helping us to understand our requirements and the likely costs and income generation opportunities.”
Cllr James Courtenay, cabinet member for growth is also enthusiastic by the opportunities that could be showcased in a new museum but believes any future development should support the regeneration of the High Street.
He said: “The proposed site on the cliffs has been around for a while now, but times have changed and so have the town’s priorities.
“Personally, I would like to see the museum form part of the regeneration our High Street, which is going to have to become a lot more mixed-use in future, rather than being so strongly dominated by retail, which is increasingly becoming an online sector.”
“Diversifying the use of units on the High Street is a key feature of the Council’s Southend Central Area Action Plan, so we already have policy in place that would support increased cultural use of the High Street.
“We need to be realistic about our current situation and consider the best options for drawing in residents and visitors to parts of the town that are important to local people and to the economy.
“It is clear that we have a series of compelling stories to tell and anyone who has seen the current London Shipwreck exhibition in Central museum will appreciate the quality of offer that we are capable of delivering.
“We now need to review our options and come up with a solution that is right for the town, supports its economy and is financially sustainable.”
The London Shipwreck and the Prittlewell Prince finds are two stories of national significance which have the potential to attract visitors from across the country.
An exhibition on the London Shipwreck is currently open at the Central Museum, whilst a permanent display is also planned there in the spring to coincide with the completion of academic work on the Saxon burial site.
Displaying these in Central Southend, where we already have public transport and parking facilities, along with other activities nearby, such as the pier and seafront attractions and eateries, could mean that the museum and the High Street help support each other.
A report will go before Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Cabinet once the current technical assessments, including projected museum income, have been completed.