October 26, 2020 2.28 pm This story is over 42 months old

Councils continue to clash over Usher Gallery’s future

They can’t agree on a way forward

Lincoln’s Usher Gallery continues to be a source of division for the county’s councillors as both sides refuse to move forward.

The City of Lincoln Council said on Monday that Lincolnshire County Council refused its offer to house birth, death and marriage services at City Hall in a bid retain the Usher as an art gallery.

The Usher Gallery, which is owned by City of Lincoln Council and leased to the county council, was built to house pieces of art and historical artefacts.

It was bequeathed to the city by the late jeweller James Usher in 1927.

However Lincolnshire County Council announced in September it intended to hand back control of collections at the Usher Gallery to City of Lincoln Council and reconsider how the building operated.

It included using the landmark as a venue for weddings and other events.

At the time the city council leader Councillor Ric Metcalfe said it was a “betrayal of the county’s rich heritage”.

The authority has since been trying to save the building from the plans.

City of Lincoln Council leader Cllr Ric Metcalfe (left) and Lincolnshire County Council leader Cllr Martin Hill.

Councillor Metcalfe said he was disappointed by the rejection of the latest offer, which he said was trying to “create a win-win” for both sides.

He said: “Lincolnshire County Council has a long-term lease to operate the Usher Gallery in its entirety as a gallery for the benefit of people living and visiting the city.

“This is a long-term contractual commitment on the part of the county council.

“If they do choose to close the Usher Gallery, this will be a tragedy for the city, it will put into jeopardy possible future investment from national bodies for both the Usher and The Collection and could damage the reputation of the county council for some time to come.

“We understand the county council wishes to use the Usher Gallery as a wedding venue and we remain willing to explore the potential for this, but at a scale that does not detract from the building continuing to function as primarily an arts venue across both floors of the building.”

Plans to change the use of the Usher gallery sparked petitions and protests. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Lincolnshire County Council leader Councillor Martin Hill however, said the city council needed to have “flexibility and imagination” to move forward.

He said the authority was grateful for the offer, but that it did not “support the long-term financial sustainability” of the gallery or the “future vision for the wider service”.

Councillor Hill denied the move was driven by saving money on office space, but “to find the right location, so that we can develop our buildings to deliver a thriving and sustainable art offering within our community.

He said constraints such as the listed building status, lack of security and environmental controls limited what could be done.

He pointed to the council’s work at Lincoln Castle as an example of success, adding the plans would “respect the spirit of the Usher bequest” by continuing to display art alongside its other uses.

“As I suggested to Ric, this exciting vision, coordinating artistic, historical and aviation heritage, will only succeed if we all accept flexibility and imagination to move forward and gain external support.”

Limited funds, he said, mean the council was “better to focus spending activity in achieving this on the Collection building” which he said was “more suitable to how gallery spaces are built for modern audiences” and already attracted “significantly greater” visitor numbers.

“We have a bold exciting vision for the future of heritage in Lincolnshire and very much hope that City of Lincoln’s Usher Collection and building will be part of that but we will all need to provide unconditional support.”