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Hampshire County Council approve work on HMS M33
COUNCIL bosses have been criticised for spending £250,000 of taxpayers’ money restoring a First World War warship.
Conservative-run Hampshire County Council approved the money for a major revamp of HMS M33 in this year’s budget.
But a leading opposition councillor says the public money would be better spent on key services.
The row comes after the council made £100m savings over the last two years and axed 1,700 jobs.
The council bought the Monitor gunboat in 1990 when disgraced former Tory leader Freddie Emery-Wallis was at the helm.
It is one of only two British First World War ships still surviving and is now berthed in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, near Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller praised the project on a recent visit.
But Councillor Peter Chegwyn, Liberal Democrat opposition spokesman for recreation and heritage, said: “I am surprised that the council, which is cutting libraries, museums and galleries, can yet find such a large amount to spend on a ship which is certainly of historical interest but surely there are more worthwhile projects.
“I would much rather see the money spent on restoring the book fund and keeping open small libraries and galleries which are under threat of closure.”
The council has refused to say how much it has already spent restoring the former rusting hulk to her original external 1915-1919 condition.
Built in 1915, HMS M33 saw active service in the Mediterranean throughout the First World War and provided support for the landing of Allied forces during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16.
After the war, she served a variety of purposes, including fuelling hulk, floating workshop and office.
In 1997, the county museum service placed her in dry docks for extensive works to stabilise hull corrosion. Other repairs have included new masts, internal structural works and making her hull watertight. Nearly all the fittings, anchors and gun shields were made from scratch.
The latest refit is a joint project with the National Museum of the Royal Navy to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It will mean visitors can step on board the historic vessel and see inside. Currently the gunboat can only be viewed from the dockside.
Culture and recreation chief Councillor Keith Chapman, defended the expenditure.
He said: “The county council saved and restored the M33 warship, which is one of only two surviving First World War ships, and it will now become an even more popular public attraction as the nation remembers the 1914-18 war when it celebrates the centenary of that war.”
Cllr Chapman said the county was in discussion with National Museum of the Royal Navy to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for future works.
The ship refit comes after the council closed Stanmore Library in Waverley Way in 2012 to save £36,000 per year. The library moved to The Carroll Centre where it is now run by volunteers.
North Baddesley Library was also shut last year but reopened the following day as a community library run by the parish council and Friends of North Baddesley Library.