Liberal Democrats query £1.3m cash for work at Wakefield's Hepworth Gallery

Questions have been raised over Wakefield Council's decision to spend £1.3m on upgrading the heating systems at the city's Hepworth Gallery.

Thursday, 28th October 2021, 5:04 pm
The gallery celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Gordon accused the local authority of "ducking scrutiny" over the investment, which was announced last week.

The council said the work was "essential maintenance" to protect the art within the gallery, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

The upgrade has had to be brought forward by three years to meet strict insurance standards, which dictate the humidity levels needed to ensure the gallery's art is well preserved.

Councillor Gordon said the saga was "preventable".

Councillor Gordon suggested he'd tried to call in the decision so that it could be publicly scrutinised.

He said the council had denied that request because of the urgent nature of the works, which it says need to be completed by the end of March.

Councillor Gordon said: "A lack of planning and foresight is not something that should be used to stop councillors and the public being able to ask questions about council expenditure.

"This entire saga was completely preventable if the Labour council had done its homework on time.

The council says the work must be completed by March next year.

"The fact that the leadership in Wakefield County Hall can pluck £1.3m out of thin air for an art gallery in Wakefield will be understandably galling to residents elsewhere in the District, like my hometown of Knottingley - where Labour refuse to give us any local leisure facilities.

"It's down to priorities and Labour's are just all wrong for many residents across the Five Towns.”

In response, the council's chief executive, Andrew Balchin, said the work was being carried out, "To help ensure the world-renowned gallery meets the strict criteria required by insurance standards set by central government and other leading bodies in the art world - to protect internationally significant works of art.

“The Hepworth Wakefield has welcomed 2.5million visitors since it opened 10 years ago and benefits the local economy by £13m each year.

“There have been several factors which have combined to drive the need to renew and upgrade the system ahead of schedule.

"This includes changes in general climate conditions and general efficiencies - in terms of CO2 emission and utility reliance - as well as the system functioning inadequately, which is now beyond manufacturers’ warranties."

Mr Balchin said there would be no "significant" financial impact on other projects, as the council had set aside money for long-term maintenance.

He added: "By undertaking these works now, including the carbon reduction elements, the council will not only address the internal environmental control issues but enjoy the advantage of the CO2 savings ahead of schedule."

Local Democracy Reporting Service