A chorus of voices from across Leeds today urged Ministers to launch a competition to find a UK city to be European Capital of Culture in 2023.
Civic leaders, business chiefs and culture bosses have penned an open letter to Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for the arts, urging her to put aside the country’s Brexit hangover, and to launch a new journey to “promote the cultural excellence and diversity of the UK to an international audience”.
And they stressed it does not matter which city ultimately wins.
Leeds is one of several cities expected to vie for the prestigious title. Others who are considering bidding include Dundee, Milton Keynes and Plymouth.
An announcement on whether or not the Government will keep its obligation to host in 2023 is imminent.
It follows weeks of growing uncertainty fuelled by reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had warned Government colleagues against scrapping the contest completely.
Other cities which are not in the EU have previously hosted the title, including Norway’s Stavanger. And when Liverpool hosted it in 2008, the eventual economic benefit to the city was estimated to be more than £750m.
Sharon Watson, chair of the Leeds2023 bid and artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, said: “We are ready to launch our bid for the title on a European stage when the call is made, showcasing and celebrating the outstanding cultural contribution that Leeds has made to the world.
“We have been in dialogue with Government since the result of the EU Referendum as non-EU countries such as Norway and Iceland have hosted the competition in the past.
“We anticipate Government will recognise the continued benefits of the competition to the UK economy and to cities like Leeds with an announcement to launch the competition.”
Ministers previously told Leeds’s bid bosses that “until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force”.
Leeds started the process of bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2014.
Ms Watson said that “the whole city has come together to back the bid” and around £500,000 has already been invested in the city’s early expression of interest.
Councillor Judth Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, added: “We’re heartened by the overwhelming support from partners all across Leeds who share our ambition and recognise what a phenomenal opportunity European Capital of Culture in 2023 can be for the city.
“We’re calling on the Secretary of State to give the go ahead in line with the usual time frame and confirm the bidding process will start so we can make the push to secure the title.
“The significant positive impact it had on Liverpool is well known and we want Leeds to have the chance to get the same transformative effect in terms of the benefits culture can bring socially and economically to every area of the city for people who live and work here.”