WITH no theatre or cinema in the city, Chester has often been branded as something of a cultural desert.
Former city MP Christine Russell, now co-ordinator of the Odeon Action Group, is among those to have bemoaned the poor arts and cultural offering.
But Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) claims the tide is turning with plans for the new £40.5 million theatre in place and an increasing number of arts festivals taking place.
They are now behind an ambitious bid for Chester to named the UK City of Culture in 2017.
The city is among 11 places bidding for the award which was inspired by Liverpool’s success as European Capital of Culture in 2008.
CWaC said it was investing more than £50 million in culture and senior councillors believe Chester will be a strong contender for the award.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and recreation, said: “Cheshire West and Chester is one of the very few councils in Britain making major investment in its culture infrastructure.
“By 2017 the authority will be aiming to showcase a major new theatre, the refurbished Grosvenor Park and new performance venues in Northwich.
“And you can add to that the success of Chester’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre together with its music, literature and lifestyle festivals which are growing from strength to strength.
“Should we be successful, the title of British City of Culture will bring an economic boost and tremendous prestige to the city.
“However, we will have to work hard to create an exciting and vibrant cultural experience to be selected.”
Chester MP Stephen Mosley has welcomed the bid and said it showed expectations and attitudes regarding culture were changing.
He said: “Millions have been pumped into restoring our historic environment, whether that be the walls, the town hall, the amphitheatre or the plans for the Grosvenor Park and the cathedral.
“New festivals have been introduced; the film festival in the amphitheatre, Theatre in the Park, Chester Rocks and other pre-existing festivals, such as the food festival or literary festival, are now making a real impact on the national stage.
“The council has massively ambitious plans to build a new first class theatre and cinema in the city centre, and work has started on the site, with the new theatre due to open in 2016.”
Mr Mosley said Chester had been “in a real hole” a few years ago when the Gateway Theatre and Odeon both closed.
He said: “This announcement recognises the massive change that has occurred in Chester over the past few years.
“There is still much to do, but people in Chester are starting to be able to hold their head up high and be proud of our city.
“By 2017 Chester will once again be a world-class cultural destination, and I hope that this will be recognised in the following rounds of the competition.”
CWaC has already registered an expression of interest and – if shortlisted – will submit a detailed bid in September.
The Department For Culture, Media and Sport will announce the shortlist in June with the winner being revealed in November.
Bids need to deliver a year long cultural programme, use culture and creativity for lasting social regeneration and demonstrate economic impact through investment and innovation in culture and creativity.