Council leaders are investing more than £200,000 to ensure Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery can continue to attract world-class exhibitions.
Stable, controlled atmospheric conditions are needed for the visiting collections the venue largely relies on, but they cannot be delivered with its current system.
Planning permission was granted in September to upgrade the air conditioning – despite concerns about the visual impact on the Grade II* listed building – and now Bath and North East Somerset Council has agreed to foot the bill.
It will also spend £350,000 on a project to capture energy from the King’s Bath hot spring to help power the Pump Room complex and the Clore Learning Centre.
John Wilkinson, the director of economy and growth, said in his decision notice about the gallery: “The new air conditioning system will replace out of date, failing equipment which will reduce maintenance expenditure.
“To do nothing would mean continued reactive maintenance expenditure.
“It would also mean the gallery would not be able to guarantee environmental controls in order to secure high quality, revenue generating exhibitions.”
The planning application to upgrade the aircon said the Victoria Art Gallery relies on visiting collections on temporary loan from other art galleries, but that requires stable, controlled atmospheric conditions the venue cannot currently offer.
The existing ventilation will need to be enlarged and new ducting installed in an area that is only occasionally used by the public.
The application said the visual harm should be weighed against the “obvious and clear public benefits” of the proposals that are “critical to allow the gallery to borrow the significant and high status art collections that it is largely reliant on”.
Granting permission, officers said the proposals would not have an unacceptable impact and would preserve the significance of the heritage asset.
Mr Wilkinson said in his decision notice for the King’s Bath that it “demonstrates [B&NES Council’s] commitment to sustainability and responsibility for the environment through reducing need for conventional energy and reducing energy expenditure”.
The energy will supplement the conventional energy usage at the Pump Room complex and power the Clore Learning Centre.
The decision notice says the current equipment is nearly obsolete and will need to be removed or replaced, and that it would be less sustainable to buy energy from the national grid.
The hot springs are also set to provide under-floor heating for Bath Abbey.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter