By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter
The councillor leading the reopening of Nottingham Castle says the authority is aiming for a more “realistic” target of 200,000 visitors per year.
A three-year restoration project of the historic site, costing more than £30m, was completed in 2021.
Nottingham Castle Trust was set up to run the attraction and said it would become “world-class”, helping the city’s tourism appeal to rival Warwick and York.
The trust set itself a target of 300,000 visitors a year following the re-opening, but after the first eight months, the castle had only welcomed 100,000.
In November last year the trust announced it would be going into administration and the castle doors were closed.
With Nottingham City Council now back in control and due to reopen the site on June 26, the Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to Cllr Pavlos Kotsonis to find out what has changed.
“Starting from the trust and the time they had to go through, which was Covid and a few other things, there were reasons they could not meet targets, but in retrospect 300,000 was a very big number,” he said.
“We have a much more realistic number now in terms of our expectations.”
The pricing structure used by the trust had been a contentious issue, particularly in a city which continues to suffer from high levels of deprivation.
There had been calls for free access to the grounds, including from the Open the Gates! campaign group led by Tom Unterrainer.
“Some of us are very disappointed the castle grounds remain sealed-off behind the price of a ticket,” he said.
But Cllr Kotsonis argued there is a logic to pricing and said the council “must break even”.
“There’s a certain line talking about the grounds being free, and it is understandable, I fully understand the sentiment and I respect it,” he added.
“You have a £31m investment in the grounds, the adventure playground, the castle and all the work done to get the Ducal Palace back to its current state.
“How do we make sure that produces the goods and brings something back?
“Having an offer of £12 for a whole year access, and having a new element which is children 15 and under going free, is a much stronger offer than before.
“And talking about free access, yes, there are going to be open days.”
Although tours of the castle’s cave system will incur extra fees, the annual access includes all the regular internal exhibitions including the interactive Robin Hood gallery.
The site will be operated by the council’s “very experienced” Museums and Galleries Service, alongside Wollaton Hall and Newstead Abbey, to encourage financial sustainability.
Cllr Kotsonis said “failures definitely happened and are being reviewed” in response to the trust’s management of the castle.
This includes the handling of an incident of alleged racism on the castle grounds, after which an independent review found more training was required in relation to safeguarding.
“I’m really confident we are going to deliver for Nottingham in a much more robust way than the trust could have ever achieved,” Cllr Kotsonis said.
“[Safeguarding] is one of those things we considered first.
“How can we ensure the site is going to be safe for people of colour, for children, for all protected characteristics?
“This is one of the key considerations in my mind, bringing back the castle is bringing it back for everybody.”