Leicester council to push ahead with new museum café, shops and galleries despite financial difficulties

Leicester Museum, in New Walk
-Credit: (Image: LeicestershireLive)

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery will get a new café despite concerns about the city council’s finances. The next stage of the New Walk attraction's revamp was revealed at the end of May, after city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby signed off on funding for the scheme.

The coffee shop will be located at the front of the museum if the planning application recently submitted to Leicester City Council’s planning team is approved. This will make it more accessible not just for those visiting the museum but those passing by as well, Sir Peter added.

The museum, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, previously had a café, but it was located at the back of the building and closed some years ago. The old cafe space could become a new attraction, showcasing the “Story of Leicester”, council documents show.

READ MORE: Popular Leicester pub set to close for expansion and refurb

The council, which runs the venue, said it was also looking to create new art gallery displays, and a new shop and reception area, in this latest round of improvements. “Essential maintenance work” will also be carried out, including roof repairs, council documents show. The works as a whole are expected to cost the authority around £3.9 million, around £850,000 of which will go on the new café, according to the authority.

However, opposition councillors Nigel Porter, Patrick Kitterick, Hemant Rae Bhatia, Scott Kennedy-Lount, Shital Adatia and Abdul Osman raised concerns over the scheme’s multi-million pound price tag. They “called in” the decision so it could be scrutinised.

They said in a joint statement: “Despite the council being in a truly diabolical financial state, the Labour leadership still appears determined to waste millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash on ill-conceived vanity projects. Most sensible people would agree with us when we say that a new council café is not a priority, especially as the council is on the brink of bankruptcy and cannot even afford to support the adventure playgrounds or SEND transport.

“The Labour council must stop wasting public money on unnecessary projects like this proposed new café. There was a perfectly good café at the museum but the council shut it down. Before a penny is spent, this £3.6 million proposal must undergo proper consultation and scrutiny. "

Councillors met this week to debate whether to go ahead with the project. Ultimately, they decided to press forward, but opinions were torn with three on the committee opposing the spending.

Councillor Porter told the committee he believed the authority should all “all be working together for the good of the people of Leicester and to prevent the city from collapsing into bankruptcy”. He added this was “especially” important at a time “when too many of our residents live in poverty and struggle to feed their families”.

He also questioned whether the café could be considered “truly a priority” at a time when “essential services and infrastructure are in dire need of attention”, raising recent conversations around ending funding to the city’s adventure playgrounds as proof.

Following the meeting, he told LeicestershireLive: “I say let's continue to fight for transparent and responsible use of taxpayers' cash.”

A council spokesperson said: “The cost of closing and refurbishing the old Wild Space gallery and moving the café into the space will be around £850,000. The proposal will enable us to create a self-contained café with access from New Walk, and means we will be able to open the café to the public when the museum is closed, which is not currently an option.

“Soft-market testing has shown there is a demand for this from café operators. The bulk of the fit-out would be paid for by the chosen operator, and the council would receive income from them.

“The design of the new space would also reveal historic rooflights and columns. Other works funded as part of the £3.9 million include the creation and redisplay of art galleries and a new social history gallery; the relocation of the Victorian Art Gallery stage; essential maintenance work to roof and ventilation systems (part Arts Council funded); a revamp of the reception and shop; and a contribution of match funding for an application to the National Heritage Lottery Fund to develop and create new galleries, including climate change galleries.”