Chester City of Culture bid flop is 'compliment'

Published date: 24 July 2013 |
Published by: Jim Green 
Read more articles by Jim Green  Email reporter


COUNCIL leader Mike Jones has been slammed for suggesting it was a “huge compliment” that Chester failed to make the UK City of Culture 2017 shortlist.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) put together the ambitious £10.9m bid and was confident of success with bookmakers making Chester an early favourite for the prestigious title.

Officers worked flat out putting the finishing touches to the 48-page bid but the judging panel was not impressed and Chester missed out on the four-strong shortlist.

Cllr Jones, who leads the Conservative-run council, has now told a radio station in Chester he believed in some ways fai   ling to make the shortlist was a "huge compliment” to Chester.

"Five years ago when we took over control of the council, Chester was being described as a cultural desert.

“We have done so much in the last five years, and invested so much money in it, I think we have passed the point where people who are making the selection feel it will be of benefit,” he said.

And asked whether Chester would bid for the UK City of Culture title again, Cllr Jones said he did not believe another bid would be worthwhile.

He said: "I don't think it’s of value for us to bid again. I think what we should do is build on the really great work the council has done over the last four-and-a-half years and continue that investment and improve the quality.”

His comments have angered opposition Labour councillors who now want to know how much the council spent on the bid.

Labour group leader Justin Madders said: “Spinning this embarrassing failure as a success shows how out-of-touch the Tories are. If we didn’t win the bid because our offer was so good already, then somebody hasn’t done their homework. They ought to have known this before the bid was made.

“I rather think the real reason why we weren’t successful is because it was another CWaC vanity project: it was rushed, unfocused and all about generating some quick headlines.

“I am making enquiries about how much has been spent in this bid. A specific website was set up  but what use is that now?”

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

Council bosses hoped the planned £50m investment in culture, which includes the proposed £40.5m theatre on the Odeon site, would win over the judging panel.

Cllr Samantha Dixon, who represents the city centre, said: “Chester’s Tories don’t understand what culture means. They think it’s big shiny buildings.

“Cultural work should reflect the best of us; what makes us a community. It describes who we are, where we come from and what we aspire to be.”

Cllr Dixon said Cllr Jones doesn’t understood what a “vibrant cultural landscape” should be like.

She said: “There’s a dangerous complacency here that if you build what the Tories call an ‘iconic building’ then that is culture with a capital ‘C’ sorted. Well, it isn’t.

“We need the Odeon to come back to life. I campaigned on this two years ago when we didn’t even own the building. 

“To reduce culture to a building is a fundamental misunderstanding of what cultural activity is about.”

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