Juliette Bains: Time for us to fly the flag for Leeds

Light Night Leeds.
Light Night Leeds.
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STANDING wide-eyed as the booming music blared out, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

I was one of thousands of people stunned into silence that night at Millennium Square as Leeds Civic Hall was lit up in a spectacular display.

Everyone watched on as huge dark shadows were cast over the historic building to haunting music as it became the ‘Theatre of Illumination’, and I don’t think there was a single person there who wasn’t even a little impressed.

Light Night was one of those events that brought the whole city together.

As you wandered around the buzzing city centre streets, watching performances unfold at places like the Corn Exchange, Briggate and The Headrow, you felt part of something really special.

And, more importantly, something special to Leeds.

The night was a huge success with around 30,000 people attending, and was one of several experiences I’ve been to in the past year or so that have made me stop and think how great Leeds is at putting on one hell of a show.

Add to this equation the likes of the Grand Depart, and offerings such as the Wood Beneath the World at Leeds Town Hall, the new arena, the fact we have our own opera company, a recently-revamped City Varieties Music Hall, two top quality theatres and museums and galleries coming out of our ears, and you’ve got quite an impressive combination.

So impressive, in fact, that I believe Leeds has a great shot at becoming the next European Capital of Culture, following in the footsteps of Berlin, Athens, Paris and Liverpool for the high-profile title.

Before you yawn and turn the page, let me tell you this could have quite an impact on your life in the next decade or so – if it gets the go ahead.

To summarise, UK cities can enter the competition for the chance to host a year-long festival, comprising of thousands of events.

If you’re not that into art or culture, then maybe the figures will convince you.

The last one in the UK, held in Liverpool in 2008, added a whopping £753million to the local economy and attracted 9.4million more visitors.

Not only that, but 85 per cent of residents said it made the city a better place to live.

Great, you might think, what are we waiting for then?

Well, whilst we have until 2016 to enter a bid for the 2023 title, there’s the small question of who’s going to foot the bill.

In the past this cost has ranged from £12m up to an eye-watering £130m, and depends on how much the city itself wants to plough into it.

It sounds like a lot and I’m sure there will be some doubters – probably the same ones who were whinging about the Tour de France before it rolled into town and won everyone over.

But if we get this bid right, the results will speak for themselves. And if we don’t go for it, we’ll have missed a prime opportunity to build on the reputation the city has worked so hard to obtain.

If the Tour de France proved anything, it’s that even with the eyes of the world watching us, we can host a good shindig.

And 75 per cent of you agree we should go for it, according to a recent council report.

But whilst the council has expressed its support, with tough times and community centres and care homes closing due to cutbacks, they aren’t in a place to invest a lot of money.

So this is the perfect time for the local business community to take the reins and galvanise the community into celebrating their city – for the benefit of everyone.

We’ve got the credentials and it’s clear there’s the appetite for it.

Now it’s time for Leeds to put its money where its mouth is.

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