Future of Thwaite Watermill museum hangs in balance as Leeds City Council plans to save £660k by ending lease
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It was revealed this week that the local authority is planning to axe 750 jobs, do away with buildings, and introduce car parking charges at popular attractions like Roundhay Park.
The sweeping programme of measures – which has yet to be officially signed off – comes as the council faces a “dire” financial position, with it needing to save £58.4m in the year ahead, alongside £7.4m of already agreed savings.
If it cannot make these savings, it would not be able to set a balanced budget for 2024/25 – which would effectively mean declaring bankruptcy.
One of the proposals that is likely to concern those interested in the city’s heritage is the ending of the lease at the Thwaite Watermill museum, in Stourton.
The museum tells the story of the milling industry in Leeds and is nestled on a tiny island in the River Aire. It is one of the last remaining examples of a water powered mill in Britain.
The site is owned by the Canal and River Trust.
If the council goes ahead with ending the lease, it would mean that Leeds Museums and Galleries would no longer be responsible for management of the site from 2025.
Instead, it would be up to the owners to decide what happens.
The council said the move would save the authority between £660,000 and £756,000 over the next five years.
A spokesperson for the authority added: “Whilst the council does not take any decisions affecting visitor attractions lightly, the financial pressures we are now facing mean we are being forced to explore options which would never have previously been considered.
“Ending the lease on Thwaite would therefore balance the unavoidable need to make cost savings with continuing to provide a diverse, high quality, accessible experience for our visitors at Leeds Museums and Galleries’ other eight sites, all of which are owned by Leeds City Council.”
It was added that this proposal would be subject to consultation.
The lease on the site is currently due to end in 2030 – and visitor numbers are lower than might be hoped at just over 11,000 in 2022.
All of the council’s proposed measures, which include a 4.99% tax increase, are due to be discussed by senior councillors at an executive board meeting on December 13.
The Canal and River Trust was asked to comment.