Chester not on the shortlist for UK City of Culture

Published date: 20 June 2013 |
Published by: Jim Green 
Read more articles by Jim Green  Email reporter


 

AN AMBITIOUS bid for Chester to become UK City of Culture 2017 has failed.

Despite being the bookmakers early favourite’ for the prestigious title, Chester was not among the cities announced on the four-strong shortlist.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) admitted it was disappointed to miss out, but said the bid had galvanised the arts community and would have benefits for years to come.

But former Chester MP Christine Russell, who has been leading the campaign for a new theatre and cinema, said the bid had been an “own goal” and branded the council “deluded”.

She said: “How can you put in a bid to be the UK City of Culture when you have not got a theatre, have no city centre cinema or major art gallery and no cultural destination venue?

“The whole thing was farcical from the beginning.”

Chester was up against 10 other bids, with favourite Swansea, Hull, Leicester and Dundee making the final shortlist.

Had the bid been successful, CWaC was hoping for huge increases in visitor numbers and investment.

Council bosses hoped plans to invest £50 million in culture, which includes the proposed £40.5 million theatre on the Odeon site, would win over the judging panel.

Chester MP Stephen Mosley said: “This is disappointing, but we can all be proud that culture in Chester has made huge leaps forward over the past three or four years and that everyone pulled together to back our bid to be UK City of Culture in 2017.

“It is critically important that we maintain the momentum; that we keep creating new festivals, new venues and keep expanding our cultural offering to make sure that our bid is even better next time.”

But Mrs Russell said the bid had wasted time and money which would have been better spent on bringing forward the opening of the new theatre which is still four years away.

She said: “In Chester we have a really vibrant grassroots arts scene who are putting on excellent shows and events.

“But that should not be used to cover the fact that it is a disgrace that a city of the national and international importance of Chester lacks the most basic cultural facilities.

“I do not think the council has any serious intention; trade is haemorrhaging away from the city and the council does not seem to realise it.

“You look at somewhere like Shrewsbury and Chester has a lot to learn. That town, which is much smaller than our city, has a wonderful new theatre.

“CWaC should be putting all of its efforts into getting the Odeon building open again as soon as possible. Chester is really suffering.”

Council leader Mike Jones reacted to the blow of missing out on the shortlist by announcing plans for a new Roman centre in Dee House overlooking the amphitheatre with the potential to attract 400,000 visitors annually.

But Mrs Russell said that idea has been around since the 1980s.

Cllr Jones said: “We put forward an excellent bid and I am proud of the way the city rallied behind our campaign.

“Yes it is disappointing, but the process has helped people realise just how much culture the city already has to offer and sparked a determination by all sorts of individuals and organisations to build on the heritage and advanced culture that the Romans introduced all those centuries ago.”

CWaC said the bid had received “massive public support” with 1,500 people backing the bid online.

Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture, praised the role arts and culture organisations played in helping make Chester the early favourite for the title.

He said: “Chester is already a city alive with culture – a programme which is growing year on year, attracting thousands to the city and achieving international recognition.

“Our bid not only outlined future intentions but also highlighted what we already offer.

It brought together and galvanised our cultural organisations and community in a way few imagined.

“We didn’t convince the competition judges but Chester will have a culture offer that will both help drive our economy and create a truly international first class visitor destination.”

Labour Cllr Louise Gittins, shadow spokesman for culture, said CWaC now needed to use culture to put Chester “on the map”.

A number of city arts and culture groups have also expressed their disappointment that the bid failed, although insist the bid showed Chester has plenty to offer.

Matt Baker, musical director of A Handbag of Harmonies, said: “The choir is disappointed that Chester did not make the shortlist.

“However, we remain proud of Chester and still look forward to an exciting future in this fabulous corner of the world.”

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