BODMIN'S landmark Public Rooms are to close and will be sold off to the highest bidder as part of sweeping cuts which have been announced by the town council.
The sale casts a shadow over the future of Bodmin Town Museum, housed in part of the Victorian building which has hosted key events in the town for more than 100 years.
More than 8,000 people visit the museum every year and news that the Public Rooms are to be closed on April 1 has stunned the museum's committee, which is planning a major exhibition next year commemorating the Great War.
Chairman Philip Gale said this week: "I've only heard rumours, and what [the Cornish Guardian] has told me today.
"We haven't been told formally about the closure, and will be meeting to discuss the situation with the town clerk on February 25."
Museum president and local historian Peter Davies also said he knew nothing officially about the Public Rooms' closure: "The museum volunteers have been working throughout the winter on new exhibitions and we're supposed to be opening at Easter, so I don't know where we stand."
The council is also pressing ahead with staff redundancies and is closing the public toilets it owns at the Dennison Road car park, and will attempt to sell them. Councillors have decided not to burden residents with a large increase in its precept, which will go up by 1.96 per cent.
It means someone in a Band D property will pay an extra £4.35 per year to the town council – but Bodmin residents will be paying more and getting less since the town council's income from council tax has dropped by nearly 13 per cent, from more than £1 million last year to £889,000 for the financial year starting in April.
Councillor Ralph Solomons, who oversees the council's finances, blamed the cuts on government changes to council tax benefits which had reduced the authority's income.
"These cuts have meant some very hard decisions as we've tried to prepare the council to face what will inevitably be a very difficult and uncertain financial future," he said.
"I'm sure people won't like forking out more and getting less from their town council.
"This decision to close the Public Rooms and others allows Shire Hall to stay open, with money available to repair and retain Shire House. Decisions on other council property will be taken during the course of the year as the council looks to operate in a more commercial way.
"There were times in the last couple of months when I thought we'd be forced to get rid of two of our three iconic town-centre buildings," Mr Solomons said. "Fortunately we've found a way to save and renovate Shire House.
"This left us with two alternatives: closing the Public Rooms or raising the council tax even more to cover the massive repair bill."
Car parking charges will be largely unchanged, although the 70p-a-day charge at the Priory car park overspill will increase to £1. There will be free parking after 4pm and on Sundays.
Mr Solomons said: "We've already said that cuts of this magnitude will affect our staff but I'm not prepared to go into specifics until the proper consultations have taken place.
"We haven't raised car parking fees in the main Priory car park and, like Cornwall Council, are not charging after 4pm.
"At a difficult time for the council, we hope this is something traders can promote to their advantage," he said.