Grant Woodward: Culture bid’s a start, but we’re still playing catch-up

Manchester signalled its ambitions by building a National Cycling Centre.
Manchester signalled its ambitions by building a National Cycling Centre.
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HALLELUJAH! Whisper it, but Leeds is actually showing some ambition.

The decision to enter a bid for European Capital of Culture was surely a no-brainer.

It’s about showing ambition and making things happen. For too long Leeds has been on a straight line to obscurity.

You only have to look at what the title’s done for the likes of Liverpool and Glasgow to realise we couldn’t afford not to go for it.

Still, Keith Wakefield and Co could have got cold feet – not least given the punitive cuts being forced on the city by those bullies down the M1.

But to their credit they’re clearly waking up to the fact that sometimes you need to speculate to accumulate.

The powers-that-be in Leeds were taught an important lesson last summer.

The Grand Départ showed that it pays to think big.

Thousands turned out on The Headrow, the TV coverage was fantastic and suddenly the city had a profile on the world stage.

But although the council lent important support, that was Gary Verity’s baby.

It was the Welcome to Yorkshire chief who had the chutzpah and sheer brass neck to snatch the Tour from under Edinburgh’s nose.

And as welcome as the Capital of Culture bid is, we need to set it in context.

This is probably the biggest prize the council has chased in living memory.

But on the other side of the Pennines, they were bidding for the Olympics – yes, Olympics – 20 years ago.

Those 1996 games went to Atlanta rather than Manchester, but the city simply responded to the disappointment by putting in a bid for the 2000 games.

And although it lost that one to Sydney, Manchester wasn’t just tilting at windmills.

As part of its bid commitments, the city had built a new National Cycling Centre and a 21,000-capacity arena.

Two years later, both were central to its hosting of a hugely successful Commonwealth Games – along with the newly-built City of Manchester Stadium.

Those Games not only formed the catalyst for the widespread regeneration and development of Manchester, they also put it on the global map and established it as one of the country’s leading cultural hotbeds.

While Leeds City Council can’t make Party in the Park cost-effective, their counterparts in Manchester are staging the Parklife festival in front of 70,000 paying punters.

Comparisons with that lot on the wrong side of the Pennines may get tiresome but there’s a good reason for making them.

When big companies who employ lots of people are looking to relocate we want them choosing Leeds, not that mob along the M62.

Investment, jobs, profile. Manchester’s ambition – going back decades – has secured all those things.

Now it’s busy establishing itself as the natural centre of the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ being promised by Chancellor George Osborne.

First in line for devolution, taking on an elected mayor and the responsibility for local health services are risks that could go either way. But at least it’s willing to take them.

And where Manchester has built its brand, Leeds has made a shoddy job of marketing itself.

If you want symbolism, look no further than the decision to close the Leeds Visitors Centre at the train station and hide it under the Art Gallery.

Leeds is hosting the Rugby World Cup later this year, but where are the big banners and events building the buzz?

It’s all about creating excitement, showing ambition and making things happen.

That’s what other cities have done and they’re reaping the benefits now.

The whole thing is a circle, but for too long Leeds has been on a straight line to obscurity.

The Capital of Culture bid is a start – but that’s all.

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