VALE BACKS-AWAY FROM ENFORCEMENT ON PENARTH’S TURNER HOUSE

Turner House Gallery and its paintings was bequeathed to the people of Penarth

Turner House Gallery and its valuable paintings were bequeathed to the people of Penarth

The Labour-run Vale of Glamorgan Council has backed away from a potential clash with the Welsh Government over the National Museum of Wales’s stewardship of the Grade II Listed Turner House Gallery in Penarth.

The Vale Council planning committee has now given the National Museum (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Welsh Labour Government) some wriggle-room to extract itself from an embarrassing situation which has spotlighted the Museum’s indifferent record on overseeing and managing the nation’s treasures.

James Pyke Thompson - benefactor and founder of Turner House Penarth

James Pyke Thompson

Turner House was bequeathed to the people of Penarth by its founder (the flour-magnate James Pyke Thomson) – but in 1921 Penarth Urban District Council asked the National Museum of Wales to run it on its behalf.

In 2003 the National Museum leased the building to the “charity” “Ffotogallery” for photographic exhibitions.

The central lightwell on the first floor of Penarth's Turner House (A Grade II Listed Building) was filled in for an exhibition last year and neither it nor the surrounding balustrade was restored

Gone: The central lightwell on the first floor of Penarth’s Turner House (A Grade II Listed Building) was filled in for an exhibition in 2014 and neither it nor the surrounding balustrade was restored

In November 2014 Ffotogallery decided to black-out all daylight from Turner House to use it as a the venue for a temporary video “artwork” involving 9 video projectors.

Without any reference to the Vale of Glamorgan Council or to Penarth Town Council,  or even its landlords the National Museum, Ffotogallery planked-over the large distinctive light-well on the first floor  and removed its surrounding balustrade designed by T Alwyn Lloyd  – all features which were noted as part of the building’s listed architectural status within the Penarth Conservation Area.

The nine-screen "cinema" installed in Turner House, Penarth

The nine-screen “cinema” installed in Turner House, Penarth

On February 21st 2015  the exhibition ended  – but no work was undertaken to restore to the gallery to what had been there before.

The Vale Council planning officers said in a hard-hitting report:-  “These  works are considered to affect the character of the building as one of special architectural or historic interest and, as such, are works that would have  required the consent of the Council under the provisions of section 7 of the 1990 Act. As the necessary consent has not been granted, the works to fill in the light well and remove the balustrade are a breach of section 9 of the 1990 Act.”

However in  last night’s Vale of Glamorgan Council Planning Committee there  were concerted moves to row-back on that hard-line position when  the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee considered an original recommendation from its officers to initiate the enforcement action over Turner House against the National Museum of Wales.

Vale Enforcement Officer Justina Moss at last night's Vale of Glamrogan Planning Committee

Vale Enforcement Officer Justina Moss at last night’s Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee

The Vale’s Enforcement Officer Justina Moss told councillors that removal of the lightwell and balustrade was considered a breach of the legislation that relates to Listed Buildings. She told councillors that the current occupiers [Ffotogallery] “did not consider they needed consent to carry out the works” and had said that “the council shouldn’t be asking them to undo the work” or put things back as they were .

However in her verbal briefing, Justina Moss appeared to pull back from the tough position set out in the Planning Report document.

That report had said  “a series of correspondence has been sent to the owner [the National Museum of Wales] and occupier [Ffotogallery] to advise of the breach of planning control that has occurred and to request that works are voluntarily undertaken to reinstate the light well and balustrade. To date the necessary works have not been undertaken.”

Justina Moss – however –  told councillors last night there had been  what she described as “a small error in the report”. She said that contrary to what was stated in the report, the Vale Council had not in fact been in direct contact with the National Museum of Wales.

She admitted however that after the report had been published the National Museum of Wales had indeed  been in contact with the Vale Council to say it was very concerned  about the authorisation being sought” [i.e.  to issue an Enforcement Notice against the National Museum] and that the Museum wanted to “wholeheartedly comply with   whatever the Vale required to re-instate the lightwell and balustrade” and had asked that the decision to issue the Enforcement Notice be deferred to give them ” a bit of leeway”  to carry out the works.

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward)

Cllr Clive Williams (Conservative Plymouth Ward) said Turner House, Penarth was one of the most important public buildings in the Vale of Glamorgan and had been gifted to the people of Penarth. The cost of the maintenance of the building – even after it had been handed over to the National Museum of Wales – had been met by a local precept charged to Penarth ratepayers. He said the alterations carried out by Ffotogallery represented ” a huge breach of public trust” and the National Museum of Wales had “not discharged its obligations to the people of Penarth “.

Cllr Williams said he now understood that the National Museum of Wales had “given its blessing” for a [food] market to be held at Turner House once a month . Cllr Williams asked “Who is actually in control of this at the moment?”. The National Museum had told him that afternoon that it did not have sufficient space to display the volume of artworks that it holds . Cllr Williams said some of these should be displayed at the Turner Gallery.

Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines)

Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines)

Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustines) said he endorsed what Cllr Williams had said in terms of the value of the Turner House to Penarth. But, he said, the National Museum of Wales now seemed to be acting in good faith and he proposed postponing the imminent enforcement action  for a limited period to give them as chance to do the work.

Cllr Clive Williams said he understood that Ffotogallery’s lease on the building was due to expire in November 2016 and that might defer the work . He also thought it important to establish who legally owns the building.

Cllr Gwyn Roberts said Ffotogallery had now contacted Penarth Town Council – but he did not know what they wanted to talk about.

Cllr Jeffrey James (Conservative Rhoose)

Cllr Jeffrey James (Conservative Rhoose)

Cllr Jeffrey James (Conservative Rhoose) send a cannon shell across the bows of Cllr Gwyn Roberts. Cllr James said he was unclear what Cllr Roberts was proposing . The recommendation of the planning report was quite clear – to give authorisation to the Head of Legal Services to  take action to bring about the reinstatement. If the committee agreed that it “would add weight to officers in negotiating with the [ National Museum]   to say let’s actually get on with it”. Cllr James said he was not happy to “leave them to have time to think about it ” Cllr James said the committee should move the recommendation here” .

“LET’S HANG FIRE”

Vale of Glamorgan Council Planning Officer Victoria Robinson

Vale of Glamorgan Council Planning Officer Victoria Robinson

However Planning Chief Victoria Robinson was also a keen member of the chorus to delay pressing the button on enforcement action – even though it was her own department which had initially recommended issuing a formal legal Enforcement Notice to the committee. Back-pedalling on the recommendation in her own report, she said  there had been what she described as a “bit of miscommunication” . “ We would now say let’s hang-fire on the formal process for now.” 

Officers, she said, were happy from communications received that day, that the National Museum was “intent on sorting out this issue. We’ve got no reason to mistrust them on that”.

Cllr James said “I don’t think this should be open-ended. This should come back to committee – next month.”

Cllr Andrew Parker (Conservative Cowbridge)

Cllr Andrew Parker (Conservative Cowbridge)

Cllr Andrew Parker (Conservative Cowbridge)  said he was happy to agree to a deferment but  we can’t necessarily trust them to put back the T Alwyn Lloyd balustrade to its exact form – so what we also need is some strength.”

He said detailed drawing should be required  and the deferment should be to allow the National Museum, to “produce the detailed drawings for approval prior to construction”

Cllr Jonathan Bird

Cllr Jonathan Bird

Cllr Jonathan Bird said “ It does seem strange to me that we’ve got a report here – the recommendation of which is that we ask them for the reinstatement of the lightwell and balustrade .”

“Surely we could pass this tonight and put a time limit on it. This has been going on for over 12 months and my concern is that it will rumble on for another 12 months. It’s here tonight in front of us. I don’t see a real reason to defer.”

Planning Committee Chairman Fred Johnson saw this issue would put the Vale into head-on conflict with thet Welsh Government

Planning Committee Chairman Fred Johnson saw this issue would put the Vale into head-on conflict with thet Welsh Government

Planning Committee chairman Fred Johnson said The owner of the building – the National Museum of Wales – are saying “hold on a minute, we don’t know anything about this – so give us the time”- because you are talking about the National Museum of Wales – Welsh Government really”   .

Cllr Johnson said the National Museum  was saying – “There’s no need for you to take formal action against us”

Cllr Gwyn Roberts said “We have to give some  freedom to the National Museum of Wales. They appear now to be acting in good faith  . It seems heavy-handed and frankly in terms of the credibility of this council – why put an enforcement notice on when someone is voluntarily putting the work right?”

Officer Moss said the National Museum, of Wales had indicated they could complete the works by the end of June and had asked for a meeting with planning officers and the Vale Conservation officer. She suggested progress be reported in the first meeting in July.

Cllr Clive Williams said his concern was that the National Museum, had “suddenly taken an interest. Where were they when they should have acted as landlords?  I haven’t got confidence in a landlord which allows that to go on in a listed building “

It was agreed to defer the decision on enforcement action against the National Museum of Wales on Turner House until next month and a report being brought to the next planning committee.

PDN Note:  The assertion that the National Museum of Wales ‘knew nothing about the unauthorised alterations carried out in the Turner Gallery until recently’, is unconvincing. The National Museum has a sophisticated media operation which checks all electronic and print media every day and would have been fully aware of what Ffotogallery was up to.

 

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Penarth Daily News email address dmj@newsnet.uk . Penarth Daily News is an independent free on-line fair and balanced news service published by NewsNet Ltd covering the town of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, UK. All our news items are based on the information we receive or discover at the time of publication and are published on the basis that they are accurate to the best of our knowledge and belief at that time.
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10 Responses to VALE BACKS-AWAY FROM ENFORCEMENT ON PENARTH’S TURNER HOUSE

  1. Brickie says:

    I wonder, is there any data on the footfall of the Ffotogallery exhibitions? On the few of visits I’ve made over the years, I’ve never seen another visitor and the exhibitions and the attendants have seemed lacklustre and bored respectively.

    • Philip Rapier says:

      It is “Corporate Negligence” by the Board of Trustees in my opinion when the National Museum fail to inspect their entrusted publicly owned tenanted property on a regular basis.
      Imagine if they did. What would it say in the tick box on the notice board in the “washroom facilities”
      Question- Was this public wash room facility in a clean condition.
      Answer
      There isn’t one! (could be a hygeine problem for a meat market that)

      Question Was the “unique” “aestheticaly inspiring”- Edwin Seward- Lightwell -missing

      Answer
      Erm! -Well it was there when we last bothered to call in a year or so ago. .
      (Seward designed the iconic Coal Exchange and Cardiff Old Library)

      Take heart from this! We will have our Turner Gallery back.

      This merely strengthens our resolve. This is just the first salvo in the great battle to restore our right to own our cultural heritage.
      The people of Penarth will have their Museum and Art Gallery back exactly as the Pyke-Thomson family intended I can assure you nothing will prevent that.
      Sincere thanks yet again to PDN, – to all Penarth Councillors and others who contributed to the debate with great passion for the subject and cross party objectivity.
      ( especially indebted to those Councillors who represent wards a good distance from Penarth in both Barry and the Western part of the Vale- Thank you)

  2. M Davies says:

    I have taken people there on the rare occasions it seems to be open and we have been the only people there. Turner House Should be returned to an art gallery. If Cardiff doesn’t want to send over some of their art works there are many local artists who I am sure would welcome an opportunity to display their works for the ocal people to see and enjoy.

  3. Anne Greagsby says:

    Turner house should be returned to an art gallery and a much needed local history museum. What’s up with the Town Council, they should be demanding this asap.

    • PositivePenarthian says:

      I am slightly confused about the comments saying it should be “returned” to an art gallery, is that not what it is currently?

  4. Anne Greagsby says:

    They aren’t going to allow the food market to proceed, are they? That would be a travesty.

  5. Dizzydeb says:

    Totally agree with both of the above comments. Maybe the gallery could then let the people of Penarth know what exhibitions are taking place. The notice board in the library would be a good place to start with.
    If we could then use the money for the unwanted skate park to put towards repairing st Pauls church before it falls down ( and becomes another block of flats) the people of Penarth would be well served with community venues. No more of tax payers money should be spent on crazy projects until this eyesore has been sorted out.

  6. Huw and Kath Williams says:

    The National Museum of Wales (like the National Library) was established by Royal Charter in 1906 and is a registered charity, so it is at arms length from its main funder which is the Welsh Government. Furthermore, as half the Trustees and the Treasurer are appointed by the Board itself with the other half plus the President and Vice President appointed by the Welsh Ministers the Museum is more independent of the State than other institutions such as the British Museum where all the Trustees are appointed by the Government and which do not have Royal Charter status. Furthermore, once appointed, all Trustees are legally bound to act in the best interests of the charity, so to characterise the Museum as a “subsidiary” of the Government is both incorrect and misleading . I write, by the way, as a former Trustee of the Museum. Regards, Huw Williams

    133 Windsor Road

    Penarth

    CF 64 1JF

    Date: Fri, 10 Jun 2016 05:10:01 +0000 To: huwandkath@hotmail.co.uk

  7. I was lucky enough to win a school competition and had my own art displayed here almost 30 years ago! How I wish my own art student son could do the same. Please, please allow local artists display their work in this beautiful building. Sorry but a food market just doesn’t fit in a place like this, maybe an arts and crafts fayre, but food…no!

  8. Christopher David says:

    I remember one Chairman of the Arts Council Wales- Mr Thomas of Penarth wasn’t it, authorised payment to an Irishman to knock a brick wall down with his head. Almost as silly as the made up pseud Welsh name- Ffotogallery. I understand there are hundreds of pictures in the vaults of Cardiff museum. Lets get them out on display at a newly resorted Turner House on rotation. Don’t let the Philistine’s Ffoto whatsit and Welsh arts bunch get away with this vandalism.

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