SOUTHAMPTON city leaders should tread carefully when deciding whether to sell part of the city’s historic art collection.

That was the warning from Culture Secretary Maria Miller when she visited the city yesterday to check on the progress of a £21m arts complex.

Daily Echo:

The senior Tory was briefed on the project while visiting SeaCity Museum (above).

The cultural quarter being built in Guildhall Square will boast an art gallery, two theatres, a dance studio, media and film facilities and will create up to 300 jobs when it fully opens in 2016.

As previously reported, politicians are continuing to debate whether to sell some items of the city’s £150m art collection to fund it.

The Daily Echo has long called for some of the largely hidden 4,000-piece collection to be sold to fund civic improvements as part of our Show Us The Monet campaign.

In a break from previous Labour policy, city council leader Simon Letts announced last year that he wanted to sell some of the works.

But Ms Miller’s colleague, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey refused the written request to relax strict guidelines on the selling of publicly-owned art, and warned they could incur tough penalties for doing so.

Yesterday Ms Miller declined to directly comment on whether art should be sold, but said: “When it comes to the future of local art collections it is important that the council will have to consider it very carefully.”

She promised to speak further with Mr Vaizey about the matter before hailing the complex and saying: “It’s a testament to a set of councillors who have had a vision to understand the importance in investing in culture and arts to make sure that the city remains vibrant in the future.

“Investing in creativity to support creative industries isn’t only good for the intrinsic value of art in Southampton but also for creating the economic growth that goes with the creative industries.”

Cllr Royston Smith, the leader of the Conservative group on Southampton City Council, said: “It’s a great honour to have her here and she is a great supporter of the project.”

Much of the city’s art collection was originally bequeathed by a former alderman.

A debate to consider its future had been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed.