Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill has hit back over criticism of the authority’s continued plans for the Usher Gallery by saying it is “happy to hand it all back” to Lincoln’s city council.
In a statement, City of Lincoln Council leader Ric Metcalfe called for the county to reconsider its plans to turn the Grade II* listed gallery into an events venue and Coroner’s Court.
Coun Metcalfe placed responsibility for “looking after the city’s rich historical artefacts” on the county, which he said had been entrusted with heritage services for more than 45 years.
The City of Lincoln Council owns the building, which is leased and managed by Lincolnshire County Council.
However, in a tweet last night, Coun Hill hit back, saying responsibility for maintaining the Usher Collection sat with the Lincoln council.
“For many years the county council has done that service for them – without any financial help from the city,” he said.
“We are happy to hand it all back if it helps.”
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines, Coun Hill said the authority, though moving forward with its own plans, would still consider other organisations’ plans.
“If City Council have got better ideas, fine, we’ll let them do it.
“We’re not going to stay in their way,” he said.
The council has also been speaking to the Friends of Usher Gallery campaigners who have their own views. However, he said the authority felt it needed to move forward on its own plans in a bid to give more certainty, particularly to those who work there, with plans set to go before scrutiny next week and executive in September.
He said the changes were not all about saving money, with the Usher not getting as many visitors as the council would like.
He added that the county’s planned closer working between the Usher and the nearby Collection would improve the visitor offering and enable the authority to display more of the artefacts it holds.
“Just because it’s not going to be an art gallery, doesn’t mean there’s not going to be art there,” he added.
More than 800 people rejected the proposals in a recent consultation.
The authority has previously said it will consider interest from the Usher Gallery Trust and Historic Lincoln Trust in taking on the building.
As part of the public consultation the city council requested that the county council explored alternative opportunities to retain the building as an art gallery.
Lincoln’s Labour MP Karen Lee has also slammed the “disgraceful” decision to persist with plans to change the Usher Gallery.
During the consultation an online petition rose to over 2,000 signatures and protesters marched through the city to ‘save’ the gallery.