A political row has erupted over proposals to spend City of Culture funding on the revival of the DLI Museum.

Labour leaders have branded the proposals of Conservative MPs "shameful, wasteful and regressive", saying they merely cater for high earners with a "silver-service restaurant".

The Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent joint administration hit back saying the Labour opposition's claims were insulting and "simply wrong".

County Durham will receive £125,000 after finishing as a runner-up to Bradford for City of Culture 2025.

MPs Richard Holden, Dehenna Davison and Paul Howell welcomed the news and called for the money to go towards reopening the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Museum - which closed in 2016 - as an exhibition centre, gallery and café.

Read more: DLI Museum Durham - Calls for City of Culture cash to be used to reopen site

Durham Labour group leader Councillor Carl Marshall  slammed the proposals.

He said: “Reopening the DLI Museum is just the latest in a parade of shameful, wasteful and regressive decisions from this embarrassingly chaotic Tory-led coalition running Durham County Council.

“These MPs are celebrating a windfall of £125,000, but reopening the DLI will cost County Durham taxpayers £15m.

"While working families rely on foodbanks, people can’t afford to heat homes and many struggle to cope the highest tax hikes in generations, this coalition is prioritising the reopening a museum that has been replaced by a far superior facility.

"It shows just how out of touch they really are."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.

“This council spent £17m creating 'Story', the history centre at Mount Oswald’s that houses the county archive and exhibits well over 50% of the DLI collection at any one time.

"The old DLI couldn’t display more than 6%.

"The DLI trustees took the decision to close the museum because the building was falling apart after years of Tory austerity, it wasn’t fit for purpose and it couldn’t house anywhere near enough of the collection.

"They also knew we intended to create a new history centre, designed to meet their specific needs."

Read more: Plans to revive DLI Museum given go-ahead by council leaders

Deputy Labour group leader Cllr Rob Crute said the latest plans were not reopening the DLI but "repurposing the site as a high-end silver-service restaurant, well beyond the reach of most struggling households in County Durham". 

He said: “The DLI collection itself is going to Mount Oswald and The Story - a Labour initiative that brings together the collection for the first time in decades.

"County Durham has thousands of other local cultural interests and projects that the coalition could have been supported to have a greater impact on communities, but no – once again they take the regressive step.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Rob Crute. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Rob Crute. Picture: Northern Echo.

"The county council has decided instead to fund a restaurant catering for only for the highest earners.”

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “The comments by Labour group leader Cllr Marshall are a failed attempt to undermine our positive and ambitious plans to bring back the DLI Museum and Art Gallery.

"His words will be seen by the public across County Durham as an insulting attempt to deflect attention away from his group’s bad decisions and failings in the past.

“Apart from anything else, he is simply wrong in the claims he makes.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Elizabeth Scott. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Elizabeth Scott. Picture: Northern Echo.

"Plans are for a wonderful free-to-access cultural site, plus a showcase for the DLI collection, served and enhanced by a café and affordable restaurant, and all in an amazing environment.

"This will be an attraction that residents across County Durham will come to treasure. 

“Cllr Marshall should be getting behind our plans to improve our great city, correcting the error of closing the museum in the first place, and improving our cultural offering.

Read more: New history centre in Durham taking shape & will open in 2023

"Clearly, he is not interested in doing this because he does not want the public to be reminded that it was his party which shut down the DLI Museum, insulting the memory of our Durham Light Infantry, and angering families, friends and supporters of our hugely significant military history.

“The joint administration of Durham County Council is determined to move our county forward.

"After decades of failure, we are determined to achieve the best for our economy and our residents, in sharp contrast to the previous Labour administration which was rooted in the past and only interested in itself.”

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