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Leeds' bid for European Capital of Culture 2023 gets green light

Written by
Tina Walsh

It looks futuristic written down but 2023 is only eight years away. Eight short years that could see Leeds crowned European Capital of Culture.

After a 14-month public consultation, Leeds City Council has given the green light to a bid, which it has to submit to the European Commission by 2017. It will then have to wait a year for its decision.

Thousands of people – big and little cheeses alike – voted in favour of bidding for the European Capital of Culture title (which first went to Athens in 1985), with 94 per cent of young people and 77 per cent overall supporting it.

So what can Leeds expect if it wins the title? According to an EC report, it will ‘highlight the richness and diversity’ of the city, as well as 'boost regeneration and tourism and raise its international profile'.

Which is just as well, as the council will need to find up to £60m to host the year-long event. Around £4m of that will come from the council itself, the rest from bodies such as Arts Council England, Lottery distributors and the public and private sector. The University of Leeds has already pledged £75,000 a year for a three years, with vice chancellor Sir Alan Langlands saying success would bring ‘wider economic benefits’, as well as ‘wider opportunities’ to the university.


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What those benefits might be is too early to say but, to give some indication, Liverpool, which became only the second UK city to be awarded the title in 2008 (Glasgow is the other), saw a 34 per cent rise in tourism on the year before and its coffers boosted by some £4 billion in funding between 2000 and 2008.

Last year’s Tour de France introduced Leeds to a global audience and showed what the city could achieve when people get behind something they believed passionately in. If Leeds is prepared to blow its own trumpet (something it’s accused of not doing often enough) there’s no reason why that success can’t be replicated.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England, certainly thinks so: 'If Leeds is successful in 2023 then this would obviously have a significant and positive impact on arts and culture in the city and the wider region,' he said.
And if Al Pacino has chosen Leeds to host a gala dinner (on May 16) in his honour, there must be something in the air.

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