A plea to stop the redevelopment of a military museum has been rejected. 

County Durham Labour called on Durham County Council to consider an “immediate halt” to all activity on the former Durham Light infantry (DLI) Museum site and for the current development proposal to be cancelled and replaced with a memorial garden and a space for reflection and remembrance.

The political row was once again the topic of fierce debate at a full council meeting on Wednesday, as the opposition party argued the renovation would be "an affront to the memory of fallen service men and women".

Labour’s Councillor Kevin Shaw said the plans are a waste of public money, will tie a financial millstone around the neck of the council for years to come and desecrate an area where the ashes of countless fallen soldiers have been scattered.

The Northern Echo: County Durham Labour called for the current development proposal to be cancelled County Durham Labour called for the current development proposal to be cancelled (Image: Sarah Caldecott)Labour said it put forward plans for a memorial garden on the site, offering people a place for reflection and remembrance, but claims the proposals were ignored. The party’s concerns have been echoed by campaign group The Faithful Durhams, which recently criticised the conditions at the site

“This site should never, ever have been developed because there is no way of understanding where ashes may have been laid,” Cllr Shaw told the meeting. “This site could - and should - be preserved, protected and perfectly presented for generations to come in its entirety.”

Members of the Joint Administration in charge of the council - made up of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Independents - said a key aspect of the reopened facility will be dedicated space in the grounds that allows relatives and other visitors to remember those who served in the DLI.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member for economy, said: “There have been some very negative news stories circulating in the local press and on social media in recent months, and these have largely stemmed from a small group of people who at one time were fighting for the museum to open but now appear not to be, and the Labour group. 

“Labour are now seeking to get rid of the museum entirely, presumably by flattening it and then replacing it with a memorial garden.”

Cllr Scott told the meeting that the council’s plans have been backed by DLI trustees.

The Northern Echo: How the new site could look How the new site could look (Image: Durham County Council)

In a move to quell concerns over the cost of the scheme Conservative councillor Richard Bell, cabinet member for finance, said there will be no net cost to the council taxpayer and funding has been generated through the sale of The Sands building to Durham University on the banks of the River Wear. 

He added: “Labour wanted to develop the DLI site. Let us remember that they left that building empty and slowly rotting away. Yes, Labour left a memorial to the DLI - a shabby, empty, crumbling building in neglected grounds.”

Council Leader Amanda Hopgood praised the "forward thinking" current administration and said the plans will help protect the historic DLI collection’s future. 

The Liberal Democrat councillor added: “That’s why it failed in the past because you didn’t invest in it, you ran the museum into the ground. If you’d gone to visit it 30 years ago and went back 30 years later you’d have seen exactly the same display. 

“Anyone who votes to cancel and not replace or reopen that building should be utterly ashamed of themselves and never say that they represent the people of County Durham.”

The Northern Echo: People outside the DLI Museum in 2017 after its closurePeople outside the DLI Museum in 2017 after its closure (Image: The Northern Echo)

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Labour was in control of Durham County Council when the much-loved military museum was closed in 2016. The closure of the site became a key issue in the 2021 local elections and was one of the factors that led to Labour losing control of Durham County Council.

Labour leader Cllr Carl Marshall denied claims that his party would have redeveloped the site and criticised the lack of clarity with the redevelopment. 

He told councillors: “People are being lied to and deliberately misled, and that will start to come out in June when The Story opens. This will be a posh restaurant, a cafe, and a fancy art gallery with a tiny hole to display some stuff from the collection so the coalition can say they’ve met an election pledge. It’s totally disrespectful to associate the DLI’s name with this.”