THE culture minister has visited the newly re-opened York Art Gallery, saying its exhibitions will be a "huge hit" with visitors.

Ed Vaizey was at the gallery yesterday as his department launched a consultation on the culture White Paper.

He said the Government wanted places like York to use culture and heritage to improve quality of life and draw people to city to live and work, not just as tourists and visitors.

The minister was shown around the gallery by chief executive Dr Janet Barnes, and saw work on the gardens behind the building, and the painting store never usually open to public view.

He said: "I think the gallery shows fantastic vision. I think it's a very light and open and welcoming space. The collection is displayed superbly, I think it will be a huge hit."

York Press:

Mr Vaizey with Dr Janet Barnes at the gallery

The gallery, which it run by York Museums Trust, reopened in August with a £7.50 entry fee, after admission had been free since 2002. Museum bosses put the charges down to drastic funding cuts from City of York Council.

Mr Vaizey said local museums like York's should be able to do what was necessary to make ends meet.

He added: "Well I think we have made a commitment in the Government to keep our national collections free and open, but that's at a national level."

Central government already supports institutions like York's gallery and museums through the Arts Council, he said, and while local councils have seen heavy cuts in their budgets the authorities are still free to make their own decisions on how to spend their cash, he added.

He also praised the museum trust's work to lower charges for people who get some benefits, and on annual passes and discounts for York card holders.

York Press:

From left: Dr Janet Barnes, Chief Executive of the York Museum's Trust; Sir John Lawton, Chairman of the Board; Noirin Carmody, Trustee; and Ed Vaizey, Culture Minister. Picture: David Harrison.

After the York visit, which also saw the minister see York Minster stoneyard, he headed to Newcastle for a round table discussion with north east councils and arts bodies on the White Paper.

The policy document will look at how to make cultural bodies financially resilient and how to promote Britain abroad, but also how cultural and heritage assets make better places to live.

Mr Vaizey said: "I want to hear from councils like York, on what their ambition would be to use culture to promote themselves not just for people who come to visit as tourist but also for people who come and work here.

"I know Talktalk are investing in very very high speed broadband in York, so you are likely in the future to continue to attract 21st century physicists to come here. But part of that will be the quality of life for people who want to come and work here, and I think culture and heritage can play a very big role in that."