CULTURE minister Ed Vaizey has praised moves to put arts, culture and heritage at the centre of a policy to drive economic growth in Chester.
The minister was attending the first day of a two-day Local Government Association Annual Conference on culture, tourism and sport being held in Chester.
He said the creation of the unitary authority Cheshire West and Chester Council in 2009 had produced savings which were being invested in a new theatre, cultural activities and a new library.
He said: “Culture encourages tourism, inward investment and creates a better place for people to live.”
He welcomed Chester’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2017 – one of 11 cities that had applied – and told delegates: “Chester is using cultural investment as a catalyst for inward investment.”
Mr Vaizey said the government was committed to investment in culture, with big increases in funding from the Lottery and Heritage Lottery, and changes made in taxation and inheritance to encourage philanthropy.
The theme was also used in a presentation by Cheshire West and Cheshire Council leader, Cllr Mike Jones, who outlined how the authority was using culture to improve the local economy.
He said cultural assets are a key part of a lifestyle offer that helps create conditions for economic growth.
Cllr Jones said: “That’s why we here in West Cheshire are looking at investing in a new theatre in Chester, and upgrading our leisure and sports facilities. We believe well targeted capital investments will help deliver growth.”
One of four areas chosen by the Government to pioneer ideas for the predicted biggest shake up of local spending in decades, Cllr Jones told delegates from authorities around the UK what Cheshire West and Chester is doing to provide a smarter way of delivering public services aimed at improving the quality of life for residents while saving money.
Conference chairman, Cllr Flick Rea, told delegates research by Arts Development UK found that every £1 spent on the arts by councils brings in another £4 to local communities.
She said: “It is extremely fitting we are meeting in Chester. The council has firmly placed arts centre stage in driving local growth – from building an open air theatre, to revitalising its heritage assets and an impressive summer programme of festival activity that reinforces the city and surrounding area as a premier cultural destination and a great place to live.”
Many of the delegates enjoyed the first live performance in the embryonic new theatre when A Handbag of Harmonies presented a 15 minute musical trip down Hollywood’s memory lane.
They swapped handbags for hard hats and safety equipment to stage the show in the former Odeon cinema which is currently the subject of an archaeological dig before work begins on the new theatre.
Other delegates chose to join a tour of the City Walls which the Council plans to transform into a leading European heritage trail.