One of Wearside’s best-loved tourist attractions could shut - despite a bid to bring coveted City of Culture status to Sunderland.
Alternative options for the future of the Grade II* listed building are to be investigated.
“This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, but it is one of the really difficult choices we are having to look at because of government cuts,” said councillor John Kelly, Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture.
Although a final decision has yet to be taken, the Friends of Sunderland Museums (FOSUMS) condemned the idea.
“We are extremely alarmed about this. Even a “temporary closure” poses real danger to the museum and its exhibits,” said Neil Sinclair, vice-chairman of FOSUMS.
“Fulwell Mill was temporarily closed and, as a result, the building deteriorated with water coming in and a lot of extra money had to be spent on making it weather-tight again. Also, what sort of message does this send about the City of Culture bid?”
Monkwearmouth Railway Station was commissioned by the “Railway King” George Hudson, designed by leading architect Thomas Moore and opened on June 19, 1848.It closed to travellers in 1967 and all railway use ended in 1970.
Sunderland Corporation stepped in to save the building from dereliction and it was re-opened as a museum by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1973. Several revamps have followed.
But, according to Councillor Kelly, the grand old building has seen a “steady decline in visitor numbers” over the past few years.
“We need to look at how we can continue to preserve and maintain the building at the same time as protecting the museum’s collection and historical past,” he said.
“At the forefront of our thinking will be looking at new and innovative ways to protect the future of Monkwearmouth Station Museum in the longer term.”
Members of FOSUMS are ‘alarmed’, however, that councillors are pressing ahead with funding plans for other heritage projects while the museum could close.
“We hope that the closure is indeed only temporary, but we very much fear once the council’s contribution is removed from its budget, it will never reappear,” said Neil.
“The council justify the possible closure because of falling visitor numbers, but numbers are roughly the same as the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, which costs more to run.
“We realise that the council is having to make cuts as a result of budget cuts, and that the Museums Service would have to make further savings, but we find the closure inexplicable.
“We need to start fighting for the very survival of our museums. We are sure that we will receive widespread support from the people of Sunderland who love their museums.”