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MPs call for ‘town of culture’ award to boost regeneration

A group of Labour MPs have signed an open letter to the culture minister calling for a new UK Town of Culture award to run alongside the UK City of Culture, which they believe will regenerate local areas and high streets, create new jobs and bring communities together.

Towns can currently apply for the City of Culture award, which is awarded every four years, but since 2013 only one town has made the shortlist.

The open letter says small towns are ‘simply not equipped’ to contend against major cities in a bidding process which they say disqualifies parts of the country that are rich with cultural history and heritage.

The MPs envisage a year-long programme of cultural activities and events which they believe would generate new investment, footfall and national recognition for the towns involved, and would provide the opportunity for communities to be ‘creative, ambitious and to celebrate the best of their local area.’

In the letter, it says the award process would mean national funding organisations such as the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, or private sector organisations would be required to focus particularly on towns.

Regeneration consultant John P. Houghton criticised the proposals, saying a Town of Culture award encourages the idea that towns are ‘no more than mini-cities.’

‘Towns have identities, economic functions, and dynamics that are distinct and different from cities,’ he said.

‘We need an approach to the enhancement and revitalisation of towns that is more ambitious than “city policy-lite”.’

He also questioned how the award would be funded, saying an annual award scheme would only attract a relative handful of participating places which would not influence the strategic direction and operation of major funders.

‘If we want to get serious about the future prospects of towns, let’s look at more meaningful measures.’

According to a report from the University of Hull, the city of Hull attracted over £220m in investment, created 800 new jobs, opened 131 new businesses and attracted millions of tourists during the year they were City of Culture in 2017.

The third UK City of Culture will be held in Coventry in 2021, with Chelmsford, Luton, Northampton, Southampton and Tees Valley all expressing interest in bidding for the 2025 award.

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