Transperience: What went wrong?

| December 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

It has been over 16 years since a Bradford museum had to close its doors to the public after it didn’t hit the number of visitors it had anticipated and clocked up tonnes of debt. It is a sad story of how a plan with good intentions just couldn’t grip the attention of the public and ended up with a lot of debt.

The Transperience theme park was the Bradford-based West Yorkshire museum of passenger transport and was in the village of Low Moor in southern Bradford. It opened in July 1995 amid reviews that it was a world-class attraction but closed only 2 years later in October 1997 after running up debts of over £1 million. 

The museum was built on the site of Low Moor railway station, which had closed down on 14th June 1965. Transperience was built at a cost of £11.5 million – including £8.32 million in a grant from the Department for Environment as well as additional grants from Europe. It included a 1km tram line which made use of the trackbed of the Spen Valley Line towards Cleckheaton and visitors could ride on a tram or trolleybus. There was also a series of vehicle simulators and an auditorium.

The museum was originally envisaged by the West Yorkshire County Council as a 27-acre transport museum linked to an electrified Spen Valley Tramway. The first setback came in 1986 when Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher abolished the Wakefield-based county council but the authority’s parting gift was setting aside £1 million in trust to help start off the scheme and the West Yorkshire Transport Museum Trust (WYTMT) was born. Bradford Council wasn’t keen on the idea but newly-elected Labour MP, Bob Cryer was and he drummed up support for the scheme and persuaded the Council to give it a chance.  In 1988, former economist and town planner, Mike Haynes was given the job of chief executive of the scheme and was tasked with finding £15 million to pay for it.

In 1992, the Trust got the necessary planning permission from Bradford Council to extend the highway to the site and in 1993, they obtained permission to build the trust office building and construct exhibition space.

Telegraph & Argus Ken Morley Opening, 1995

Telegraph & Argus
Ken Morley Opening, 1995

When it opened on 1st July 1995 by Coronation Street star, Ken Morley, it was hailed a world attraction. The museum was home to a large collection of old Bradford buses, a Translink trolleybus system, a Hungarian two-car electric tram, four vehicle simulators, a large auditorium and a children’s adventure playground. The pricing was seen as far too expensive. In its first year, prices were £6 for an adult, £5.50 senior citizens and £3.50 for juniors. They then realised that the prices were too high and in 1996 they reduced them to £4.95 adults, £3.50 senior citizens and £2.95 for juniors. It was very easy to get to by car or by public transport. A car drive would involve turning off of the M606 at the Euroways exit or you could get there by public transport on the 268 service from Bradford Interchange stopped outside.

Transperience Trams Phil Robinson, 1996

Transperience Trams
Phil Robinson, 1996

ADMINISTRATION

The WYTMT had predicted 200,000 visitors in its first year but it struggled to get half that. Redundancies followed including Chief Executive Mike Haynes and marketing manager Jayne Tyrrell. Jayne told the T&A she had no doubt over why it had failed – “You can’t expect people to come to a place if they don’t know about it – and it takes money to tell them.” She was brought in six months before it opened and she expected a budget of £1 million to do a job of that size. She actually received around £150,000 – a sum which she described as “a drop in the ocean.” The MP for Bradford South, Gerry Sutcliffe also agreed that its failure in the marketing department was to blame.

The theme park Paul Holroyd

The theme park
Paul Holroyd

Amid rumours of the site falling in to debt, the attraction was placed in the hands of administrators, Coopers & Lybrand, on 18th February 1997, but despite a six-month survival plan and new attractions to bring in more visitors, they failed to find a buyer to take over the venture.

The museum failed to attract the numbers of visitors hoped and was closed down in October 1997 never to reopen. It had closed down for the winter with plans to open the following April with a new name and operating on just a third of its existing 15-acre site, with the intention of selling the remaining land to raise cash to pay off the park’s creditors. However, it was reported at the end of March 1998 that there were no plans

The administrators, now part of global company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers

The administrators, now part of global company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers

for the site to be reopened. Three buyers were interested in the site. Two of them wanted to retain the park, whereas the third wanted to redevelop the site in to factories and warehouses. At this stage, Chairman of the WYTMT, David Sheard told the T&A, “We are very concerned about the future of Transperience. It will be a shame if it does go.” He also told of his concern for the Spen Valley railway line, which he wanted to keep going. Unfortunately, although the administrators had been charged with selling the site as a going concern, its main priority was to pay back the creditors who were owed more than £1m by the trust.

THE FINAL END FOR TRANSPERIENCE

Phil NOW 1

What the site looks like now
Phil Robinson, 2009

The site was sold to a property developer, Ogden Properties Ltd of Boston Spa on 25th June 1998 for £1 million. They planned to redevelop the site and after they obtained the relevant planning permission in 1999, the bulldozers moved in in 2001. Their plan was to make the site, next to the M606, come alive with new companies bringing hundreds of jobs. In order to do this they planned the demolition of a third of the prestige concourse. Later in 2001 they put in planning permission to build 12 houses on the site but their application was refused In 2002, work was completed on first phase of the £7m business park. Agents Knight Frank said centre now a 93,500 square foot high quality warehouse with offices and parking is the biggest industrial unit ever to be built in Bradford. Besides it stands another 15,091 square ft warehouse and extended service yard. Work began on the second phase in spring 2002 containing three large units and this had been completed by the end of that year. The industrial site, now called Park 26 with 140,000 sq ft of office space was officially opened in 2002. In 2004, more than 50 small businesses owed nearly £750,000 following the collapse of the park finally received the cash pay-outs. The money was paid to mainly smaller enterprises, which was aised from the sale of a separate piece of land, a former goods yard in Heckmondwike. Shortly after this, the WYTMT was removed from the Register of Charities on 25th August 2005 and the company was removed from the register of Companies at Companies House on 1st December 2005.

The auditorium now Phil Robinson, 2009

The auditorium now
Phil Robinson, 2009

Some parts of the museum, such as the auditorium, still stand. A number of the vehicles in the collection were sold to other collections such as the Keighley Bus Museum. The valuable collection of buses went on to Keighley Bus Museum, helped by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Plans have now come into fruition to reopen Low Moor station to passenger use to be re-opened in 2015.

 

 

 

 

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Written by James Slater with assistance from Phil Robinson. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail philrobinson005@gmail.com to assist with our investigation. Alternatively, you can comment on this page if you have an account.

 

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