Agenda item

Questions from the Public


Three questions had been received for the meeting from Mr Hails, Mr Thorley and Mr Elliott.


Mr Hails was unable to attend the meeting and had requested that the Chair put his question to Council.  The Chair put the following question:


“I understand you might be reopening the DLI building.


If so, will you house the full DLI collection and restore full artistic exhibitions to the museums remit and should you decide not to house the full DLI collection or display art exhibitions, can you justify spending what will possibly be a significant amount of the Council taxpayers money, therefore, please inform me of the net running costs”.


Councillor Scott, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Economy and Partnerships thanked Mr Hails for his question and provided the following response.


“In June 2021, following the local elections in May 2021, the Cabinet of Durham County Council agreed to review options to reopen the Durham Light Infantry Museum & Durham Art Gallery.


The outcome of that review was presented to Cabinet in September 2021, which identified a preferred option to bring the building back into use as an exhibition centre, gallery and cafe venue incorporating a dedicated display space for items from the DLI Collection to complement plans for the exhibitions in The Story, acknowledging that The Story, as the county’s new History Centre, would be the permanent home for the full DLI Collection, its storage, care and curation.


While the redevelopment of the site would see a dedicated display of this collection, which held such a significant place in the county’s history, the full DLI Collection would not be on display at the new venue as it was not physically large enough and never was in any event pre-the closure by the previous administration in 2015.


The DLI Collection currently contained over 200,000 archive items and 15,000 objects and continued to grow with donations from members of the public.  Given its vast size the entire DLI Collection had never been on display in one location at any one time.  Typically, museums around the world display only 5% of their collection.


Alongside the dedicated display space for the DLI Collection there would also be space for changing/ temporary exhibitions.  This exhibition space has been designed to meet appropriate British Standards and the requirement of the Government Indemnity Scheme and as such would be the first time Durham City, and indeed the county, would have a large exhibition space able to attract and secure significant loans from national and international galleries and museums, as well as the capacity to show the county’s collections in new ways, and to work with creatives and curators to originate new exhibitions.


The operational business plan for the new venue was expected to attract in the region of 150,000 visitors per year, and was being developed to ensure resilience, sustainability, and value for money for the long term.  This business plan was considered alongside the forecast capital costs of bringing the building back into use as outlined in the September 2021 Cabinet report and was agreed by Cabinet in April 2022.


It was currently forecast to have a net cost of £600k per annum to operate the new larger and much improved facility, with permanent free access for all to the DLI exhibitions and the new public spaces inside and outside the building.  Provision for this had been made in the Councils Medium Term Financial Plan from 2024/25.


Importantly like any public infrastructure the Council had invested in a facility that was free at the point of use for all. Last year we saw County Durham short listed for the UK City of Culture 2025, with a vision to build a great future on our proud past and ensuring that key facilities like the DLI and the Story were here for future generations was imperative.

Going forward, officers were continuing to develop the business plan and refine the forecasts and if it was possible to reduce the expected running costs we would, but it was important that Cabinet were aware of the estimated running costs when we made the decision to reopen the facility.

This venue was an important commitment as part of our inclusive economic strategy, ensuring that culture, heritage, and creativity were inclusive, rooted and ambitious, building on the proud history of our county.  The new exhibition gallery along with the DLI space, sensitively designed extension and the sustainably landscaped grounds and reflective garden will provide a contemporary cultural venue, filling a significant gap in our infrastructure.


The new DLI venue and The Story at Mount Oswald, would together create a significant new draw for visitors and local people alike, contributing to both our visitor economy and to local pride.


The second question was from Mr Thorley:


“Are there any future prospects of council funded CCTV cameras being installed at 'problem areas' in and around the areas of Shildon and Brusselton to deter the issue of flying tipping and other rural crime in the area.


Many councils in England have secured direct grants for CCTV in the last 18 months as the increase in flytipping continues along with other rural crimes.”


Mr Thorley was unable to attend the meeting and would receive a written response to his question following the meeting from the relevant Cabinet Portfolio Holder.


The third question was from Mr Elliott who was in attendance:


“My question relates to the signing of the Devolution deal on behalf of County Durham.


How will the funding be a good thing for County Durham and will full Council have the opportunity to fully debate the devolution deal in the future before any final decision is made?”


In response the Leader of the Council thanked Mr Elliott for his question and reported that on 18 January the Councils Cabinet considered a report which evidenced why that the ‘minded to’ LA7 devolution deal represented the best option for County Durham residents and businesses and endorsed in principle that the “minded to” devolution deal should be taken forward.  A copy of the deal that had been negotiated with government was attached to the report and was available on our website.  Members of the public, and any councillors, were able to attend and ask questions at cabinet meetings - and this opportunity was available when the devolution report was considered.


The January Cabinet report also outlined the findings of the governance review that had been undertaken.  This review set out that a new mayoral combined authority would improve the exercise of statutory functions across the region.  The proposals were being consulted on until the 23 March. 


Prior to the January Cabinet meeting, it was also important to note that there was a full debate about devolution at an Extraordinary meeting of the Council on the 7th December 2022 - which resulted in a motion being passed by council that stated - “cabinet secure a devolution deal that is best for County Durham residents and businesses”.


The proposed regional deal would see a significant shift of powers, funding and responsibility from central government to our region.  Working alongside our colleagues in the other authorities, it would allow us to pursue our ambitions for the growth of our area and the wider region, which would benefit everyone who lived in the north east.”


An LA7 deal would give this council access to more funding and additional powers and more opportunity for deeper devolution.  By becoming a part of one of the largest devolution deals in the country, we would also have greater influence at a national level.


There would also be more flexibility as to how money could be spent and more opportunity for private investment.


By joining the regional deal, County Durham would have access to £120 million more in funding than it would have through a standalone county deal, while economic estimates suggested that 6,500 new jobs could be created in Durham within a LA7 deal – 2,000 more than in a county deal.


It was also estimated that the LA7 deal would attract £1.34bn private sector investment into the county, some £400m more than that estimated in a county deal.


Following the conclusion of the statutory consultation, the Cabinets of all seven councils would consider the outcome of the consultation and next steps.  There was no requirement for a report to be brought to Council.


The Chair announced that that concluded Public Questions for the meeting.  All questions and responses would be posted on the Council’s website following the meeting.

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