Diana Johnson: The culture of unfairness that is hindering Hull’ renaissance

Queen Victoria Square in Hull being dug up for improvements for the City of Culture.

Queen Victoria Square in Hull being dug up for improvements for the City of Culture.

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IN the House of Commons recently, the Prime Minister backed my call for national arts and culture organisations to contribute fully to the UK City of Culture, a title which Hull will hold in 2017.

Hopefully, these national organisations, largely London-based, will listen and join the RSC, the BBC and others in backing City of Culture.

However, their participation isn’t the whole story.

Hull’s experience shows the plight of often overlooked parts of the North currently having to fight even harder to be heard. Another objective of UK City of Culture is leaving a legacy of improved facilities in the city where it takes place.

In November’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced £150m for London museums, £141m for arts and cultural developments at East London’s Olympic Park and £100m for a new Royal College of Arts campus in Battersea.

In the same speech, the Chancellor allocated “a share” in £1m for Hull’s year as City of Culture. This brought Government support for Hull 2017 up to £11m.

While £3.5m was found for a helter skelter at the Olympic Park, Hull was recently turned down for £5m towards refurbishing Hull New Theatre.

Hull’s bid to bring Amy Johnson’s plane Jason to her city of birth, marking 75 years since her death, was rejected by London’s Science Museum. Based in South Kensington and receiving £45m a year in public grants, the Science Museum have developed their Flight Gallery to make it difficult to move the Gypsy Moth plane without, they claim, dismantling part of the roof.

This is unfortunate. Displaying Jason in Hull would give many local people an easier opportunity to see part of our local history for the first time.

Meanwhile, Bradford is losing its Royal Photography Society collection to London’s V&A.

Recent headlines in The Yorkshire Post shows an underlying unfairness at work – and it applies more widely than arts and culture issues.

Hull City Council faces the latest Government funding cuts without a penny of the £300m in transitional relief – £24m for Surrey alone – that Ministers are giving to many wealthier areas.  

Hull has the lowest frontline policing numbers since the 1970s after losing 24 per cent since 2010.

When the playing fields of Eton were flooded in 2014 money was “no object”, but it was an object when crucial flood defence schemes were cut or delayed in the North from 2010.

Hull’s much-delayed rail electrification scheme shortly marks two years stuck in the same stage of the Department of Transport’s glacial decision-making process, even though the scheme is privately financed. Meanwhile, a walk around Canary Wharf’s gleaming new £500m Crossrail Station shows where investment remains focussed.

While Hull awaits our £75m A63 road scheme, the Government wants to spend £2bn on a Stonehenge road tunnel. It was no surprise to see in the most recent figures that transport investment in London is £5,426 per head, but only £581 per head in Yorkshire and the Humber.

As a result of not getting rail or road improvements done in time for 2017, apart from the £11.5m footbridge over the A63 that is due to open during 2017, we’re now debating lowering parking charges and Humber Bridge tolls.

The days when the Humber Bridge was built for £98m have now been replaced by the era of the £175m Thames Garden Bridge.

Despite all the talk of the Northern Powerhouse and “rebalancing the economy”, much of the largesse flows from the poorest parts of the North to the wealthiest parts of the South.

On Whitehall jobs, devolution is in reverse mode. To be fair, this isn’t just about the North versus South divide. Parts of the North in a position to jump through the necessary hoops for Whitehall’s “one size fits all” model of “devolution” are more favoured.

So while the city is getting a £750,000 open air theatre, Manchester gets £78m for a new theatre and exhibition centre.

In attracting Siemens and winning City of Culture – and before that building the KC Stadium – Hull fights to make our own luck on regeneration.

However, the days of Hull getting half of the £52m cost of building The Deep from the Millennium Commission are a distant memory.

That’s why the campaign for a fair deal for Hull continues.

Diana Johnson is Labour MP for Hull North.

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