'Leeds 2023 to go ahead without European Capital of Culture restrictions'

Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, speaking tonight.
Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, speaking tonight.

Leeds will bounce back from its European Capital of Culture 2023 ban with a six-year programme of arts and events without “restrictions” posed by the continental title.

That was the message from civic leaders tonight during an event at Leeds Town Hall outlining a renewed commitment to promoting culture from now until the big year.

During a speech to the What next for Leeds 2023? audience, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake revealed the authority believes the European Commission’s decision last year to exclude UK cities from holding the title post-Brexit came directly from chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

She said: “We think this decision came right from the top.

“We believe Michel Barnier himself actually made that decision.”

But she added: “I think we are very blessed and we are fortunate in Leeds because we are not known for lying down and taking things that come our way.”

She added that putting on a Leeds 2023 programme without being "restricted" by the European Capital of Culture remit would mean more international opportunities and sport events could also play a part.

Proposals outlined as part of the city’s 2023 bid will still go ahead, and further announcements were made this evening.

A new collaborative project, Yorkshire Sculpture International, will be delivered by Leeds Art Gallery, Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2019 and again in 2023.

The launch of Leeds Peoples Theatre – which will create huge outdoor community performances in 2020 and in 2023 – was also announced.

And early agreements have been made with businesses to pay for the Leeds Lighthouse – a full-sized lighthouse to be built in the city.

Coun Blake also said that Leeds would now work with former UK “rivals” also prevented from holding the 2023 title.

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