'Heavy hearts' as Maritime Heritage Centre closes

PETERHEAD'S Maritime Heritage Centre will not re-open this summer after councillors approved plans for Banff and Buchan College to take a full-time lease of the Lido building.

Councillors at the Buchan Area Committee last Tuesday unanimously agreed to the college takeover, with one councillor blaming Aberdeenshire Council for failing to support the struggling museum.

Committee chairman, Councillor Stuart Pratt told the committee: "I see no option but to agree to this recommendation, but I do so with a heavy heart.

"I do not think this museum has been given any chance at all and I hold the council greatly responsible for the downfall of this project."

When it first opened in the mid-90s, the heritage centre was designed to attract up to 30,000 visitors per year and was seen as a link in a chain of coastal trail centres including the Lighthouse Museum and Discovery Point in Dundee.

Initially, it was estimated the centre would need six full-time staff with additional seasonal staff during busy months and two full-time posts in catering and cleaning.

But the centre failed to live up to expectations and visitor numbers declined over the years, leading part of the centre to be leased out to the college on a ten-year lease in 2002.

The lease arrangement meant the centre was used by Banff and Buchan College for 75% of the year for adult learning purposes. For three months of the summer the heritage centre displays were re-erected and the centre was opened again to visitors.

After entrance fees were dropped the centre saw a slight increase in visitors, but from 2003 onwards the numbers bottomed out to an average of just under 3,000 per year.

There are currently no full-time staff employed by the centre, and councillors heard that finding two part-time seasonal staff for the summer period was becoming increasingly difficult.

Some of the heritage centre displays will now be moved to the Arbuthnot Museum, with the college continuing to offer some display space for temporary exhibitions.

But Councillor Anne Allan, criticised the proposed re-location of exhibits to Arbuthnot, pointing out that the museum is up a flight of stairs, with no disabled access. She said: "One glaring problem I can foresee is that the museum is upstairs. There will be no access for disabled people or the elderly. Museum numbers at Arbuthnot are low and more people would visit if they could actually access it."

Councillors approved plans on the condition that the cafe and toilets at the centre stay open to the public, as well as to college students.

Councillor Stephen Smith welcomed this provision, saying: "I am pleased to hear about the cafe being included in the recommendations, it is a popular cafe and is well used."