Blow to plans for displaying medieval ship in Newport
9:50am Tuesday 19th March 2013 in News
A NEW museum for Newport to reconstruct and display the popular medieval ship is not going to become a reality in the foreseeable future.
That’s according to a report obtained by the South Wales Argus that suggests the ship was not a priority after the 2012 council elections, despite estimates of 150,000 visitors a year if a museum was built.
Consultants group Colliers was commissioned by Newport council to find a site for a new city museum that would house the ship.
But after Labour was elected last May it was decided the study would not make a recommendation.
It instead suggested three possible options for storing the timbers – in Newport, in Nantgarw and in Portsmouth.
Newport council published a summary report that Colliers produced in June 2012 following an Argus Freedom of Information Act request, deleting a shortlist of potential museum sites because of commercial sensitivity.
But a diagram at the back of the report appears to show a possible location next to the Newport Footbridge on the Usk riverfront.
Work on the ship has been ongoing since it was found a decade ago. Freeze-drying of the Newport Ship timbers is currently under way at an industrial unit in Maesglas.
The report said that following the May elections the “administration has committed to a focus on education and the delivery of new schools.
“In light of this priority and lack of time and resources to apply to the museum project at present, it has been agreed that this study will not proceed to detailed feasibility at present,” it said.
“It is unknown at present when the museum project will command priority attention and resources from the council and so the delivery of a new facility to house and display the Newport Ship and associated artifacts is not going to be a reality in the short-medium term.”
Despite this, the consultants produced a shortlist of sites. Core requirements included that the museum is located on the Usk riverfront, close to or within walking distance of the new leisure developments and the Riverfront Theatre.
The report said as many as 150,000 visits could be made to a new museum every year.
It was recommended that the authority should consider a range of storage options for the ship’s timbers to protect the work done so far, with the lease on the Maesglas unit due to end in September 2014.
Colliers said it had understood that Newport was looking for a new storage site in the city, but facilities could be available at a National Museum Wales site in Nantgarw, and the Mary Rose Project in Portsmouth.
Council officers should make a further bid from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an interim project between now and the display of the ship, with funding due to end in 2014, the report added.
Disposal is not an option – council
TALKS are under way with the Welsh Government about the future of the ship and its storage, according to Newport council.
A spokeswoman confirmed that disposal was not being considered, despite a council report suggesting it as an option earlier this year.
She said Newport has always recognised the international significance of the ship, but the economic context that it is operating in is very different from when the ship was found more than ten years ago.
“Much of the information contained in the report would be relevant if the economic conditions become more favourable or if the council can attract a major delivery partner,” a spokeswoman said.
“The council is currently in discussions with Welsh Government about the future of the ship and the scope of these discussions will include storage and a funding strategy including the possibility of drawing in further Heritage Lottery Funding.”
A meeting was recently held between the Friends of the Newport Ship and the authority, where a copy of the report was shared.
Councillor Charles Ferris, patron of the Friends of the Newport Ship and who had been part of protests to save the ship after it was found, said he is staying optimistic.
“We have always understood that a project this size is just too big for a city to handle,” he said.
But he added: “It would be a terrible indictment if Newport can’t look after this unique find, which underlines Newport’s place in medieval history and as a trading centre.”
ARGUS COMMENT: Vision vital for city ship
WE HAVE said it before and we will say it again.
Newport’s medieval ship must remain in Newport and it must eventually be put on display.
Today we publish a report that has stayed secret until now that suggests the ship will never go on display.
Even worse, it suggests the ship’s timbers – currently being freeze-dried in a warehouse in the city – could end up being stored in Nantgarw or Portsmouth.
Regular readers will remember that when the ship was discovered during the building of the Riverfront Theatre it took a concerted campaign – backed by this newspaper – to persuade the council not to cover it with concrete.
Eleven years later it may take a similar community effort to persuade the council of the benefits of keeping the ship in Newport.
It is clear the council does not see a museum for the ship as being a priority.
We can understand such a view to an extent, particularly in these tough financial times for the public sector.
But Newport’s future cannot be built on short-termism.
There has to be some long-term vision, and displaying the ship, with all the potential tourism benefits that could bring, should be part of that vision.
The council should be seeking grants and private finance to ensure a jewel from Newport’s past becomes a centrepiece of its future.