THE opening of the Milestones museum in Basingstoke has proved a resounding success with more visitors than expected - and they like what they have seen.

A report compiled by Stephen Locke, director of Hampshire's Museums Service, states the museum has opened "to the best possible start".

He added that initial public response to the museum, which opened last November, has been "extremely positive".

There were 12,284 admissions in the first five weeks of opening, including 996 free admissions - suggesting that paid admissions will exceed the projections of the initial business plan.

Visitors have appreciated the quality, quantity and range of the museum collections, with a high level of interest in the more modern material as well as the older collections.

Visitors have reportedly been "very impressed" by the standard of the reconstructed historic environment at the museum.

The report recognises the need to provide sufficient numbers of guides at peak times - now expected to be greater than expected - is important.

Visitors have responded positively to the costumed interpreters who appear at the museum, and they want more of this form of interpretation and more working demonstrations.

"In short, they want the 'living' in 'living history' to be emphasised," said Mr Locke.

In summary, Mr Locke states that it is clear the general intellectual underpinning of Milestones and the methods of interpretation are a "resounding success" and the public want more of the same.

There is praise, too, for the museum building on the leisure park site, which has met the demands of high levels of public use and extreme weather conditions.

The report sounds one note of warning in stating that developing from this initial success is critical to the long-term sustainability of the museum.

Mr Locke notes that, as the public rapidly take the quality of the museum experience for granted - even though it sets new standards - the quality of general public service, such as customer care and catering, will become increasingly important.

"It will be crucially important to build on this platform, especially by anticipating public needs and not allowing any complacency," says the report, which is to be presented to members of Hampshire's museums panel on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a revised budget - which increases spending, mostly on the provision of acoustiguides and relief staffing, balanced by increased income, and maintains the planned subsidy of £154,000 from both Basingstoke and Deane council and the county council - is being considered by the museum's joint management committee.

Milestones suffered a minor setback at the weekend after a double power cut forced it to close. It was back open by Monday for the start of its schools programme.