The leader of Lincolnshire County Council has left an opening for both sides to end the argument raging over the Usher Gallery’s future – but there’s a cost.
City of Lincoln leader Councillor Ric Metcalfe announced this week that the lower tier authority planned to store all its art and artefacts in Nottingham.
The city said Lincolnshire County Council had made a bid to store it themselves, but that it was “more expensive” than Nottingham’s.
However, County Council Leader Martin Hill has now said the county was prepared to maintain them “free of charge subject to [the city council] being flexible on the use of part of the Usher Gallery”.
It follows more than a year of to-ing and fro-ing by the councils and campaigners over plans to use the venue for weddings and ceremonies and move exhibitions to the Collection Museum next door.
The county council currently leases the building from the city, who received it as a gift from the famous jeweller and art collector James Usher.
However, the city’s opposition resulted in the county giving two years notice in September 2019 that it wanted to return all the collections stored in the Usher — unless the city council was prepared to pay for its storage.
Councillor Hill called the plans to move artefacts “regrettable and a missed opportunity for Lincolnshire”.
He added the county planned to ensure the Usher Gallery “remained at the city council’s disposal” and would “do all we can to facilitate their ability to continue to fulfil the requirements of the Usher bequest.”
Martin Hill said: “For us it is simple – we have an exciting vision of the future of culture.
“This includes the Usher Gallery and the Collection, where we want to invest to offer more, better, bigger exhibitions and in order to this, we needed a little bit of flexibility over the current use of the space.
“Not to close it, not to diminish it, but sustain it and widen its offer. To do this, we require agreement from the city, something they have not given.
“In fact… we are prepared to maintain the City of Lincoln’s artefacts free of charge subject to them being flexible on the use of part of the Usher Gallery.
“So here we are — a grand plan, a small amount of collaboration that would safeguard the gallery and the collections (remaining in Lincolnshire) to unlock the situation and we can then all move on and deliver what we have promised for the benefit of all.”
Following the latest announcement on Tuesday, Councillor Hill said the city’s move “showed utter contempt” for residents and was “completely outrageous”.
He questioned how the council would cover the costs of moving and installing the near 30,000 artefacts.
City of Lincoln Council leader Councillor Ric Metcalfe said his council had “arranged a favourable rate”.
“We fully expect Lincolnshire County Council to cover the costs of moving and installation as they are the ones who have broken our contract with them.”
The storage announcement “should not have come as a surprise” since officers were told “at least six weeks ago”, Councillor Metcalfe said.
City council had “utmost respect” for county officers, he said, and the relationship with them had “remained cordial throughout… this unfortunate situation.”
“James Usher’s wishes will continue to be met as the items covered here are already kept in storage elsewhere by Lincolnshire County Council, so we are simply re-locating them.
“Councillor Hill’s concerns for supporting culture and heritage in the city are welcome within the context of the separate ongoing discussion over the county council’s future vision for the Usher Gallery.”