‘UNIMAGINATIVE and unconvincing’ – that is the scathing verdict on the failed bid for Chester to become UK City of Culture 2017.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) spent more than £23,000 and invested about 315 man-hours in the ambitious bid but the Arts Council was far from impressed.
According to the judging panel, the 48-page ‘Alive with Culture’ document was “not a strong bid” and needed “rethinking from the bottom up”.
Despite being the early bookmakers’ favourite, Chester failed to make the four-strong shortlist, losing out to Swansea, Hull, Leicester and Dundee.
Had the bid been successful, CWaC was hoping for huge increases in visitor numbers and investment.
Figures obtained by the Leader under the Freedom of Information Act show the unsuccessful bid cost £23,057 with £11,550 of that going to the consultants who wrote the bid.
Hollyoaks creator Phil Redmond chaired the judging panel who questioned the imagination of the bid, the commitment from the council to deliver the bid and highlighted ‘significant risks’ in securing funding.
The judges’ feedback report reads: “The panel was interested in the ideas of the bid in placing culture in a heritage context and combining the old with the new. They are also keen that the city does develop its new theatre and library complex.
“However, the panel felt the bid lacked a really strong narrative, was too reliant on the role of the new theatre and library, lacked evidence of depth in partnership and collaborations and could have drawn on much good practice on the role of culture in a city from areas such as Liverpool and Manchester.
“They felt the bid came across as bit tentative and perhaps lacking in full commitment.”
A host of famous faces came out in support of the bid including James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore, footballer Danny Murphy and England rugby star Ben Foden.
Had the bid been successful, events would have taken place across West Cheshire under headings including theatre, music, dance, visual arts, literature and heritage.
But the judging panel was concerned CWaC seemed to want the prestigious title to act as a catalyst for the theatre rather than improving the cultural offerings.
Judges also felt the city had a modest track record of producing cultural events with some of the examples submitted in the bid dating back more than four years.
There were also concerns about the finances behind the bid and the funding for the proposed theatre.