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I’ve not heard any news regarding progress on rehousing the collection of rare boats formerly stored at the Motorboat Museum in Wat Tyler Country Park. However, a friend has sent me three pictures of some of the magnificent boats once displayed there.

Closing down the museum was an act of cultural vandalism – something that Basildon’s Conservative Party seem prone to.

Enjoy the pictures – and if you have any more, please send them through.

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It is good to see that the local and regional media have been taking an interest in the Motorboat Museum, even if Basildon’s Conservative-controlled Council is no longer bothered what happens to the nation’s foremost collection of motorboats. Interestingly, the Council have confirmed to me that they made no effort to find a private sponsor and set aside no money to promote the museum (the budget for promoting it came out of the general countryside services promotion budget – so I guess it didn’t get very much).

Most of us would not have much time for the excuses made by a company that complained about falling sales having not advertised its products, so it strikes me as a little rich for the Council to complain that visitor numbers were falling when they did nothing to tell people the museum was there!

Before going on, I think I should make it clear that I see this as a matter of political will and prioritisation – and not something that is the responsibility of a countryside services budget already stretched to capacity. To that end I think it appalling that in the coverage I have seen, no administration councillor has seen fit to defend this decision publicly, instead choosing to hide behind officials and spokespersons.

It is probably all too late, at least in terms of saving the collection in Basildon, but this local and regional media coverage has been impressive.

Sophie Edwards had a good piece in the Echo which featured George Sawyer, the former world record holder who lives locally and who is a member of the Friends of the Motorboat Museum. He sums it up very well:

“He said: “If the collection is broken it will be a disaster.

“Basildon has really lost something. This museum was the only one of its kind in the world, which traced the history and evolution of motor boats.

“Hopefully the museum won’t be lost altogether, even though it will be sadly lost to Basildon.””

I was rather less measured, not least of all because I am fed up of tip-toeing around issues which are too easily dismissed as a minority issue or of limited significance:

““I don’t believe the council has invested any serious effort in maintaining the integrity of the collection.

“I have nothing against taking funding from Government for a new green education centre.

“However, if the council was bothered enough, it could have sought to preserve this nationally-significant collection.””

ITV’s London Tonight programme visited Basildon yesterday and spoke to George and Nina Sawyer at the museum. Whilst it is not on their main website, ITN sells clips of its footage and you can see it as a preview on their page.

And today, John Hayes featured the fate of the Motorboat Museum on BBC Essex’s prime-time “Drive Time” programme. The three minute feature on the Motorboat Museum is exactly 43 minutes into the programme.

Until the end of last year, school kids on their curriculum museum visits could see examples such as the Fairey Huntress, the boat that James Bond and Tatiana Romanova use to escape from SPECTRE at the end of From Russia With Love.

That is one of the most iconic chase sequences in any Bond film and I remember it fuelling many a childhood secret agent fantasy.

Now?

I am left wondering sadly how on earth Basildon Council can rationalise that the preservation of a nationally-significant collection like this simply doesn’t matter any more.

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In yet another display of cultural vandalism, Basildon’s Tories have torn up the national motorboat collection, following their closure of the nation’s Motorboat Museum so it can be converted into a “green” centre. To give you an idea of the collection’s significance, here is an excerpt from the note on the website about it:

“The Motorboat Museum has been Britain’s leading authority on sporting and leisure motorboats since its creation in 1986.

Many record breakers and rare examples of boats, inboard and outboard motors are housed in the Museum. There is also an extensive collection of historic replica models and memorabilia.

The comprehensive library holds books, magazines and plans dating back to the 1890s. The library is open for use by researchers by appointment only. Enquiries can also be made through the post.”

The museum’s website says the following:

“We’re sorry to announce that the Motorboat Museum is closing down as of 4th December 2009.

Due to large scale refurbishment of the building housing the Motorboat Museum, it is necessary to close the Motorboat Museum and repatriate the collection.”

Back in November, The Echo ran a story on with the headline £1m green centre to open on site of boat museum. In that article, there is a reference to the Council’s postition:

“It would see half of the existing motorboat museum transformed into the new green museum by Spring 2011.

The other half will go out to lease, but could still remain as a venue for powerboat enthusiasts if an interested party comes forward to take over the running from Basildon Council.

Although planning is still in the early stages, it could also house historical artefacts and other items of interest.”

The article concludes:

“The council stressed all options were still open regarding the remainder of the motorboat museum, which is now only visited by about 10 per cent of visitors to the park annually.”

On the 12th November, Cabinet met and agreed to take further funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government under its Parklands Initiative. (I sit on Cabinet but, detained at work, missed the first items on the agenda, including this one. You can see from the voting record at the back of the minutes.) The report to Cabinet states:

“The second phase of funding will develop part of the Motorboat Museum to create a new community facility that provides education on the environment and the reduction of carbon.”

As this was an extensive redevelopment, you would expect it to close to the public for some time – and for the collection to be temporarily relocated.

So to recap…

On 9 November The Echo runs a story saying it could close.

On 12 November Cabinet meets and paves the way for the museum’s closure to permit the works at Wat Tyler.

On 4 December or before, the  Motorboat Museum posts a story on its website saying that as of 4 December the Motorboat Museum is to be closed and its collection repatriated.

Look again at that press comment. It is written in the clever spin-speak you come to expect of politicians and bureaucrats who want you to reach their conclusion: “now only visited by about 10 per cent of visitors to the park annually”. It is the language of minimisation, when you want to make something less significant.

But remember what Councillor Horgan said of “The Woodsman” and Wat Tyler Park? It bears repeating:

“The woodsman is a well loved piece of public art, and we believe that a new home at Wat Tyler Country Park is more suitable and appropriate, where he will be appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of people that visit the park each year.”

Note the figure: hundreds of thousands. Ten percent of hundreds of thousands means that the Motorboat Museum was being visited by tens of thousands of people annually. A rather more impressive figure than we are led to believe by the figure of ten percent. Indeed, the Cabinet report of 12 November is very specific about Wat Tyler’s projected visitors: numbers are projected to increase to 450,000 in two years. That means that the Council are acknowledging that the museum would receive 45,000 visitors a year in the next two years.

I don’t think 45,000 visitors is an insignificant number for a museum that I doubt has been widely promoted in recent years. (If you have time, the Cabinet report is worth a read – it is riddled with contradictions which it has been suggested to me is the product of repeated redrafting and editing.)

The Motorboat Museum is a registered museum with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. As such, upon closure, certain protocols have to be followed to ensure that the collection is properly dispersed (I am not certain, but I presume that this is so that items in the collection can be traced). I have seen correspondence which reassures me that those protocols are being followed. However, the fact remains that the collection as was is no longer intact and a sizeable number of the boats have already been relocated.

Personally, I don’t believe the Council has invested any serious effort in maintaining the integrity of the collection. I have nothing against taking funding from Government for a new green education centre. However, if the Council were bothered enough, they could have sought to preserve this nationally significant collection. I think that when the meeting was held on 12 November, the decision had already been taken privately by administration councillors that they were no longer interested in the Motorboat Museum. They wanted to be rid of it – and the “hassle” of looking after its collection. If I am wrong, and I hope I am, then we will see plans coming forward to preserve and display the remaining boats. After all, all options are still open. Or were.

For once, Basildon was able to lay claim to providing a home to a nationally significant collection (if you Google “”motorboat museum” basildon” you get over 8,000 hits). The Motorboat Museum was a landmark institution – and I don’t recall Basildon Council Tax payers being consulted as to whether Basildon should continue to provide that home.

Irrespective of local people’s views, the fact is Basildon no longer is.

Once again, the Tories have demonstrated their complete contempt for our local and national heritage – and taken us all for suckers.

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