The Rye Heritage Centre will be closed and its visitor information service will be relocated, the town council has confirmed.
At a meeting held on Monday (October 28), Rye Town Council made the decision to close the centre which is home to the Town Model Sound and Light Show, a visitor information service, audio tours and the Old Pier amusement machines.
From April 2020, the information service will be relocated to the town hall, while the centre will be let and the town model will be placed into storage.
In a statement, the council said the decision was made ‘to protect the interests of local council tax payers and the council’s other services’.
Issued by town clerk Richard Farhall, the statement said: “At a meeting held on 28 October, Rye Town Council decided that it could no longer delay taking action to address the substantial public subsidy required to support the Heritage Centre.
“Since the loss of visitor information funding from Rother District Council 10 years ago, the town council has struggled to run the centre without placing an excessive burden on Rye council tax payers.
“Despite reducing expenditure, re-merchandising and changing the retail offer in order to support local producers, the centre has continued to be impacted adversely by factors outside of its control. Visitor numbers are affected not only by the weather but also postponed Brexit deadlines, which have resulted in a significant number of overseas student groups model-booking cancellations this year.
“Additionally, the £12,500 a year business rates payable on the premises has not been helpful.
“The level of subsidy required has continued to rise. Over the last three years it has averaged £22,000 per annum and, without urgent action, is forecast to reach a similar figure this year.”
At Monday evening’s meeting, members of the public voiced their concerns about the possibility of visitors and residents no longer having access to the town model – a much-loved visitor attraction for some 40 years – as well as the impact a closure could have on neighbouring businesses.
Councillors advised residents that the council had explored alternative locations for the model and different governance structures for the centre ‘without success’.
The council added: “The need to subsidise the centre at £22,000 per annum had depleted the council’s reserves, which resulted in the suspension of grant-giving to community organisations, an asset disposal and two vacant posts being left unfilled.
“Members of the public were assured that their comments would be considered before the town council made a final decision on the future of the centre and were advised that the council’s priority is to ensure the continued provision of a face-to-face visitor information service in the town.”
After the meeting, the council said: “To protect the interests of local council tax payers and the council’s other services, as from April 2020 the visitor information service should be relocated to the town hall, the centre should be let and the town model should, if necessary, be placed into storage.
“However, should any members of the community express a desire to work up a proposal to keep the model at the centre, the council would be happy to provide support and guidance. Because a local charity has expressed interest in renting the centre for another purpose, any such proposal would need to be agreed with the council no later than 31 December.
“Additionally, the council welcomes any suggestions for alternative locations for the model, probably as a static exhibit.”