Published: 00:01, 21 February 2019
| Updated: 13:02, 21 February 2019
The opening of a multi-million pound museum celebrating Kent's mining heritage has been put on hold.
Kent Mining Museum at Betteshanger Park is 85% complete and was due to open to the public next month.
But the resignation of deputy principal and chief executive Mark Lumsdon-Taylor within the Hadlow Group - who own the site - means work has halted.
An extended timeframe has not been given but with the site preparing to install extra temporary facilities for the Easter holidays, the wait is expected to be more than a month.
Richard Morsley, director of Betteshanger Sustainable Parks, said: “With some of the transitional work currently taking place within Hadlow Group, we unfortunately have to confirm that there will be a delay in the opening of our new Visitor Centre, including the Kent Mining Museum.
“Both of these were originally scheduled for the end of March 2019.
“At this stage we are unable to confirm when the new building will open but we are very much committed to opening the state-of-the-art facility as soon as it is feasible.
“Meantime, we would like to encourage visitors to continue to use the park as normal.
“Drinks, toilets and cycle hire remain available in the car park and we will be adding more toilets, catering and covered spaces before the Easter school holidays begin.
“Despite this set-back, it is very much business as usual with all our outdoor activities and seasonal events taking place as planned.”
Deputy principal and chief executive Mark Lumsdon-Taylor told staff last Tuesday in an email, seen by KentOnline, that he was stepping down from his role after 16 years with the group.
In addition to owning Betteshanger Park, the company also runs Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College.
The Further Education Commissioner - which recommends actions that college governing bodies could make to improve performance - has since formally intervened at the schools, over concerns understood to be related to the group’s finances.
The FE Week has reported that the commissioner is investigating a series of land sales and purchases between the two colleges.
Mr Lumsdon-Taylor told colleagues: “I have decided that the time has come, as with all good things, to bring a chapter to a close.
“In the interests of our students, the interests of our clients, both big and small, and in the interests of all our other stakeholders, it’s time for change.”
The FE Week also reported that Hadlow group’s principal, Paul Hannan, has since gone on sick leave resulting in the appointment of an interim principal, Graham Morley.
He started work on Friday. Mr Morsley added: “All elements of Hadlow Group are currently under review but work on the new visitor centre is at an advanced stage.
“The scaffolding has been removed, glazing is largely complete and the internal fit-out is being finalised.
“Although we will not be able to meet the planned opening date for the visitor centre of March 30, the rest of the park is still very much open and operational.”
Work on the park’s transformation started in 2014 with a sneak preview offered to members of the public during an open day last November.
Once complete, it will include a visitor centre encompassing the Kent Mining Museum, walking trails and outdoor play equipment - designed to celebrate and preserve Kent’s coal mining heritage, plus membership and volunteering opportunities.
The Mayor of Deal Cllr Nick Tomaszewski said: “It is with huge disappointment and disquiet that the massive undertaking at the Betteshanger Mining Museum has had to postpone the imminent,official opening, which was to have been at the end of March 2019.
“I am sure the town of Deal and indeed the county - and whole country - eagerly await the revised opening for the museum.
“This fine initiative will be a living reminder of East Kent’s Coal Mining tradition of which many Deal miners manned the colliery at Betteshanger.
“I would like to thank Mark Lumsdon-Taylor for his huge commitment to the Mining Museum over a number of years.”
More by this authorEleanor Perkins