Asset Transfer of Wirral Transport Museum
Decision Maker: Tourism, Communities, Culture & Leisure Committee
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: Yes
The Council is proposing to transfer the Wirral Transport Museum to Big Heritage (BH), a locally based non-profit organisation, with a strong background in running museums and visitor attractions across the region. This will be a 25-year lease contracted out of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.
The Museum and tramway track in 2021/22 cost the Council £85,000 to maintain and attract a limited number of visitors per year. The proposal by BH would be to create a compelling visitor attraction, drawing in up to 40,000 visitors per year. The Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society (MTPS), who currently run the Museum on behalf of the Council have expressed their full support of the asset transfer to BH, with their board unanimously agreeing to support the proposal.
This Asset Transfer is in line with the Council’s approved Asset Strategy 2022-27 approved by Policy and Resources Committee on 9 November 2022.
Resolved – That
(1) the Heads of Terms for an Agreement for Lease, Museum Lease, Tramway Operation Agreement and Option Agreement in relation to the landholding of Wirral Transport Museum, East Side of Taylor Street Birkenhead to Big Heritage CIC substantially in accordance with the Heads of Terms as set out in Appendix 1 of this report be approved.
(2) the Director of Law and Governance, in consultation with the Director of Regeneration and Place be authorised to:
(a) Negotiate and finalise the legal document associated with this Heads of Terms
(b) (b) Seek any necessary regulatory approvals from the Secretary of State in relation to the tramway operation.
Reasons for the decision:
Wirral Transport Museum (Hereinafter referred to as ‘the Museum’) is costing the Council approximately £85,000 per year and due to its limited opening hours, the visitor attraction welcomes just 6,000 visitors per year. For comparison other Wirral Council heritage assets attracted, pre-pandemic, between 14,000 (Birkenhead Priory) and 50,000 (The Williamson) visitors a year.
Big Heritage (BH) are best placed to take on the Museum for the following reasons:
· They offer a unique provision where BH can link numerous heritage visitor attractions within Central Birkenhead (that on their own are not as compelling) into a single effective package. These attractions are the Battle of the Atlantic Centre (a new attraction due to replace the U-boat story), The Grasshopper (a working example of a giant steam pump used to clear water from the Mersey Railway Tunnel) and the Wirral Transport Museum.
· BH are a Community Interest Company (CIC), which means the assets and profits must be permanently retained within the CIC and used solely for community benefit, or (in the event of business failure) transferred back to the Council or to another organisation which itself has an asset lock, such as a charity, or another CIC.
· BH have a strong background in running sustainable business models for museums and visitor attractions across the region, including Western Approaches in Liverpool, Deva Roman Discovery Centre in Chester and will operate The Battle of the Atlantic Centre in Birkenhead.
· Any profits made to be retained within Birkenhead, by investing back in the Museum itself or in Big Heritage’s other Birkenhead visitor attractions: The Battle of the Atlantic Centre and Grasshopper.
Alternative options considered:
Retain the building as a Council asset. This option would see the Council continuing to pay maintenance costs and will be liable to any future issues. Visitor numbers would be limited to approximately 6000 per annum, compared to forecasts of 40,000 and would limit the potential of the Museum to expand in years to come as the area undergoes transformation. There is also a concern of solely relying on volunteer staff (MTPS) to run the Museum, as this may not be sustainable in future years due to risks of a declining volunteer base.
Close the museum and sell the site. This option would result in the cost, risk and liabilities no longer sitting with the Council. However, this option was discounted as it would likely result in the loss of a visitor attraction and historical asset for Birkenhead, at a time when Birkenhead 2040 Framework is aiming at attracting more people to spend time in Birkenhead. In addition, the MTPS would have to be disbanded and would give rise to complexities surrounding the heritage tramway.
Report author: Luke Bithell
Publication date: 10/03/2023
Date of decision: 09/03/2023
Decided at meeting: 09/03/2023 - Tourism, Communities, Culture & Leisure Committee
Effective from: 16/03/2023