Lincolnshire County Council is pushing ahead with changes to the county’s heritage services after passing a series of recommendations yesterday (Tuesday) morning.
Campaigners hoping to save Lincoln’s Usher Gallery, however, say more clarity is needed.
The county council says it expects to save £750,000 per year.
The City of Lincoln Council has also criticised the latest plans, saying it was not given a chance to formally consult on the return of 30,000 artefacts held in Lincolnshire’s collections.
A scrutiny committee approved the plans following analysis of consultation which saw 827 out of 1,104 responses reject the proposals.
Councillor Nick Worth, executive member for heritage, said: “It was a very positive meeting and, working with partners, we’ll find a way to move forward to a long and sustainable heritage service and one that provides quality.”
He denied accusations he was ignoring a 4,000 signature petition and the results of the consultation.
He also said that there had been plenty of time to read the latest documents, despite them only being released on Thursday.
“The main consultation document hasn’t changed… There has been ample time, I’ve had four days to go through it myself, it’s a lot of reading but you can do it.”
Making The Collection into a heritage “supersite”, meaning it would tell a range of stories and exhibitions rather than just one
Creating three “microsites” at Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitors Centre and Heckington Windmill to “enhance” the new supersite
Handing the operation of the Usher Gallery and its 30,000 artefacts back to either the City of Lincoln Council or to a third-party by giving two years’ notice on the current lease
Terminating the lease on Gainsborough Old Hall and handing it over to English Heritage
Giving responsibility for Discover Stamford, Ellis Windmill, Burgh le Marsh Windmill and Alford Windmill to another organisation
During the meeting, campaigners said the county’s own heritage should be above all other priorities for the service.
Catherine Wilson, who worked in the museum sector for 30 years including for the county council, said she was “dismayed” by the proposals.
“All the sites are important, to divide them in this way seems artificial and unnecessary. They all contribute to telling the story,” she said.
“These are not just things to be discarded, they are important to what they can tell us about this county,” she added.
Campaigners also called for more clarity on the proposals, including whether third-party business cases would include the use of the Usher as a wedding venue and coroner’s court.
Fiona Hodges, from Save Lincoln’s Usher Gallery said she was also concerned at the tight timescales involved.
She said: “The ideal outcome is that all parties work together… and that they can all work together amicably to keep the Usher open and revitalised for the people of Lincolnshire but also take great care in managing all the other heritage they are responsible for.”
The head of culture for Lincolnshire County Council, Will Mason, told councillors that a focus on holding bigger events, such as the current dinosaur exhibition, the recent Moon Museum and the future Viviene Westwood exhibit at the Castle, was designed to make the service more sustainable.
He said the benefits of a super-site “will give more reason to visit”.
He added that moving art to The Collection would open up the artworks to wider audiences – for example, the moon exhibit attracted 48,000 visitors and raised £20,000 in donations.
Following the meeting, he said: “It’s very heartening there is such strong passion for heritage and culture in Lincolnshire and I’m very pleased to see so many people do care.
“We’re doing things that have never been done before in this county and we are committed to do that.
“These are exciting things that are opening up collections to new audiences.”
The City of Lincoln Council however, says it continues to have concerns – particularly the handing back of collections currently under the county’s care via a 100-year lease.
In a letter to the committee the authority outlined its concerns – including new recommendations on which it felt it had not been “formally” consulted.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines prior to the meeting, Lincoln Council Leader Ric Metcalfe said: “They know what our position is, they’re not taking into account the impact on us.
“The county have acted in a pretty heavy-handed fashion on this. They want to export their desire to make savings on to the district.”
He said even if Lincolnshire County Council did close the Usher, they would still have responsibility under the lease to maintain the building and the collections.
However, the county says it is within its right to give two years’ notice to the city. They say they have been in discussions with the district for two-and-a-half years.
County heritage manager Will Mason said: “Two years is a lot of time for the city council to make sure they’re fully prepared to receive those collections. It really is about making sure there is fair and equitable partnerships on how these things are looked after.”
Councillor Worth added: “From the county council perspective we’ve got to get to a sustainable business model, this whole consultation is how we do that. It’s not about passing cost on to city council it’s about how we have a sustainable heritage service in the future.”