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York railway museum revamp goes full steam ahead – but Leicester plans delayed

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York’s National Railway Museum is seeking a design team for a £12 million overhaul. But WilkinsonEyre’s proposed railway museum in Leicester, backed by the York Museum, is in doubt after it failed to win lottery funding

The Science Museum Group, which owns the York museum, has issued a tender for a full-service team to complete the redisplay and reinterpretation of the museum, located in York’s late-19th-century Great Hall.

A statement by the National Railway Museum on the proposed scheme at its famous York base said: ‘The 8,000m² gallery and former railway depot forms a majestic setting for some of the most important and best-loved objects from the past, present and future of the railways.’

The project will transform the space, which has remained largely unchanged since the museum opened in a former rail engine shed in 1975.

Due to complete in 2021, the Great Hall redevelopment is the first stage of the museum’s wider seven-year masterplan at York. The revamp aims to make the museum the ‘cultural heart of York Central’ – the major urban redevelopment billed as a ‘new city quarter’.

Meanwhile in Leicester, discussions are ongoing over the next move for the city’s much-anticipated Great Central Railway Museum after the Heritage Lottery Fund turned down a £9.5 million bid for funding in December.

The decision has put a large question mark over the future of the £18 million scheme, won by WilkinsonEyre in 2016, which was planned to sit alongside the Great Central Railway heritage line terminus at Leicester North station.

WilkinsonEyre’s design would have seen three two-storey exhibition halls constructed alongside the station.

A glass wall was proposed, to allow visitors arriving by train to see into the museum and vice versa. A source close to the project said that a number of ideas were currently being ‘bounced back and forth’.

‘There is a clear appetite on all sides to create something, but it is likely to be a very different concept,’ the source said.

The museum had been planned to open in 2021 and was expected to increase visitor numbers at the Leicester North terminal from 124,000 to 230,000 a year.

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Comment on the National Railway Museum’s York plans

Museum director, Judith McNicol said: ‘The Great Hall is one of the largest museum exhibition spaces in the UK. The current treatment of both the historic structure and the exhibition space needs updating to be more accessible, with better interpretation to bring the many railway stories to life for our visitors.

‘Our aim is to complete these works by 2021 as the first phase of our larger masterplan which will create a unified museum, drawing together all the elements of our site to tell a story of rail innovations past, present and future.

‘This is a challenging, dramatic and high-profile project which will be seen and enjoyed by millions of visitors from around the world. We are seeking ambitious and capable designers that can combine a sensitive approach to displaying our much-loved railway history with bold and imaginative ideas that can help redefine what a 21st-century museum should look like.’

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