#YesLeeds: Go-ahead for European Capital of Culture 2023 bid

LEAP OF FAITH: Cultural treasures like Northern Ballet give Leeds a strong foundation to state its case for 2023
LEAP OF FAITH: Cultural treasures like Northern Ballet give Leeds a strong foundation to state its case for 2023
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A senior panel of councillors has today given the go-ahead for Leeds to bid for the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2023.

As reported previously in the YEP, a year of high-level and grassroots talks have led to a groundswell of support for the idea, which would see the city showcasing its wealth of artistic and creative highlights.

Leeds City Council’s decision-making executive board today rubberstamped a report which green lights the first phase of work to put an initial bid together.

An expression of interest must be submitted by December 2016, with a further and final bid submitted by December 2017. A decision is expected in 2018.

There was cross-party unanimous support from the committee at its meeting at Leeds Civic Hall this morning.

Leader of the main opposition Tory group Andrew Carter said: “We have to be bold. The beauty of it is that we have time on our side. This stands out as a major opportunity.”

However he also stressed it would be a “hugely expensive project” and urged the council to be “very thorough” in drawing up its financial plans.

“It’s a vast amount of public money and we have to get it right,” he said.

He also urged the council to consider making a U-turn on a recent decision to scrap Party in the Park and Opera in the Park - two annual cultural highlights for the city - in the wake of the bid decision.

“It does not fit with what we are discussing, it’s something we need to re-examine,” he said.

Councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, said previous title holders like Liverpool and Glasgow had used their year to “set the pace for themselves” - and that Leeds should learn from their example.

He said the city had already been very good at attracting investment, but now was the time to “shout loud” about our “fantastic” cultural record.

Leader of the council Keith Wakefield told colleagues the success of the Tour de France Grand Depart last year - both financially and in terms of public backing - proved that “the momentum is there”.

He acknowledged that in times of austerity, there would have to be some creative thinking in terms of the running costs.

He said Party in the Park and Opera in the Park could possibly be revived in some way, but “not in the same format”.

However the key, he said, was that winning the title itself would attract worldwide media attention and economic investment.

If we are successful, Leeds will join an illustrious list of previous European Capital of Culture which have included Berlin, Athens, Paris and Rotterdam.

Putting together a year of cultural events will cost the city around £14 million, but it is expected that the economic gains will dwarf that number.

The council has already said a range of funding streams and avenues would be pursued to meet the expected minimum commitment cost of €20m (£14m) to host the title. These would be likely to include Arts Council England, Lottery distributors, private sector sponsorship (local and national) trusts and foundations, LEP European funding, earned income and philanthropy.

The University of Leeds has already pledged £75,000 a year for the next three years to support the bid process.

Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, said: “We will do all that we can to support Leeds’ bid to secure European Capital of Culture status for 2023. Success would mean a huge boost to the outstanding cultural and artistic activities our city already enjoys.

“It would also bring wider economic benefits and significant new opportunities for our staff and students who already work closely with the cultural and creative industries.

“The University of Leeds plays an important part in the cultural life of the city and we are proud to be the principal academic partner in this bid.”

When Liverpool held the accolade in 2008, it generated £753.8m for the economy and saw 9.7m visitors come to the city, an increase of 34 per cent.

Leeds will fight it out with other UK cities to host the title - which rotates to a different country every year - in 2023. However we are the only city so far to have stated an early and strong intention.