Heugh Battery Museum campaign: Use cash from £10million funding pot to help save landmark, says Hartlepool MP

A multi-million funding pot could provide a lifeline to Hartlepool’s historic Heugh Battery Museum, town MP Mike Hill has suggested.

Tuesday, 7th May 2019, 06:00 am
Mike Hill with a First World War bi-plane at the Heugh Battery in Hartlepool.

The Tees Valley Combined Authority has allocated £10million to Hartlepool Borough Council which the Tees Valley Mayor says can be used at the council’s discretion.

Last week, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen claimed the money could have been used by Hartlepool council to prevent the eviction of the Middleton cabins community.

Heugh Battery Museum manager Diane Stephens with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen during his tour of the site.

Now Mr Hill is suggesting the funding stream could be used to help save the Headland’s gun battery museum, which defended the town during the bombardment in 1914 and is in desperate need of funding to survive.

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The council disputes how the £10million allocation can be used saying it is to boost economic growth and jobs creation.

But Mr Hill says even under that criteria, the Heugh Battery Museum should be considered for council support.

He said: “If the Mayor is correct, for example, surely the £5,000 needed by the Heugh Battery can be funded from the £10million allocation?

“In fact I would firmly argue that if the money is intended to help stimulate economic growth, then the battery museum absolutely fits that criteria because it brings plenty of tourists to the town.

“We cannot save the cabins, but we can save the museum, which I know is something the Mayor would personally support, having visited the site.”

Mr Hill has offered to take part in round-table talks with all parties to try to help the battery museum overcome its short-term funding issues and for the future.

He has also questioned any advice that may have been given by the Tees Valley Combined Authority to Hartlepool Borough Council over how the money can be used.

Mr Hill added: “It is important to look into this, not only for answers over the cabins, but for future use of allocated monies.”

Mayor Houchen reiterated there is nothing stopping Hartlepool Borough Council from using the £10million for the Middleton Cabins.

He said: “How this money is spent is purely at the discretion of the local council, and we haven’t set strict rules.

“Each local authority, including Hartlepool, received the first payment of £250,000 last week, so the money is there.”

Mayor Houchen added: “I am more than happy to meet with Mike Hill and the local council to see what we can do to ensure the Heugh Battery Museum gets the money it needs to remain open.

“Mike and I are already supporting the Tommy to Tommy Coastal Walk in May to raise funds, but I promise to more to ensure the museum is put on a sound financial footing.”

How the council responded

Hartlepool Borough Council’s leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, responded to the funding questions.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who is also a Tees Valley Combined Authority Cabinet member, said: “The £10million allocated to Hartlepool within the Tees Valley Investment Plan is intended to be used to stimulate economic growth.

“The funding is still being held by Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) and its release to the council is subject to us demonstrating how projects that receive funding will create jobs and help viable business grow.

“As we have already said, small community projects like the Middleton Cabin Owners Limited (MCOL) do not meet these criteria.

“We explored the option of using TVCA investment to support MCOL with the combined authority’s chief executive as recently as January 2019, and were advised in writing that the project ‘does not fit within the parameters that the combined authority would consider to be eligible’.

“The Mayor’s comments, therefore, contradict the advice we have received previously from the combined authority.

“It is also very frustrating that despite the council’s best efforts to identify other sites for MCOL and alternative sources of funding support, they and others continue to criticise the council, despite the fact that over the last nine years we have subsidised their rent to the tune of £93,000, including a £12,000 subsidy for last year.”

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “We can confirm, however, that the Heugh Battery is an important visitor attraction for the town and has the potential to have a positive economic impact.

“We are working closely with the museum to help it develop a business plan and to consider ways in which it might be able to attract external funding in order to maximise its full potential.”