Matt Jukes: Hull deserves its chance to shine in cultural spotlight

Performers dressed as angels take part in the Place des Anges spectacle in Hull, part of UK City of Culture 2017 and the Yorkshire Festival.
Performers dressed as angels take part in the Place des Anges spectacle in Hull, part of UK City of Culture 2017 and the Yorkshire Festival.
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A milestone will be reached later this week when Martin Green, chief executive and director of Hull: UK City of Culture 2017, reveals the first programme for Hull’s widely anticipated year in the spotlight. It provides a poignant moment to pause and reflect on just how far we have come as a city.

At the time of the bid, I was working as port director for ABP on negotiations to secure the Siemens UK offshore wind energy plant for the Green Port Hull site, a deal that came to fruition after 2013 and which played a significant part in the changing economic picture we are now witnessing. Staff are now on site at the plant.

In orchestrating the bid team, Hull City Council took a risk; we had a one in four chance of success and, having applied unsuccessfully once before, the decision to try again carried a big reputational risk in the prevailing economic climate so the decision was not taken lightly. We’re now watching our neighbours in Leeds with their plans to bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023 and we’ll be supporting them all of the way.

For Hull, the decision is already paying off and, whilst culture and the arts are not a solution for everything, we do know that culture plays a proven role in the health and well-being of residents and can be a major catalyst for urban regeneration. A core part of the motivation for bidding was to help tackle the deeply-rooted social and economic challenges that Hull faces, like many other cities. The £4m invested in bidding for and supporting the delivery of 2017 will generate an estimated £60m economic return in 2017 alone.

The UK City of Culture status granted in 2013 has not only given Hull a new-found energy and confidence, along with building capacity and expertise in our substantial, and growing, cultural sector, it has accelerated the delivery of key infrastructure projects which are, quite literally, changing the face of the city.

Our year as UK City of Culture 2017 is only one part of our 10-year City Plan, also launched in 2013, to transform the perceptions of Hull and show what a great place it is to live, work, invest and enjoy. The vision is to improve the city by creating the right environment to secure new investment, create well-paid jobs and improve the city for our residents, our businesses and our growing number of visitors.

Our £100m Destination Hull capital programme, supported by additional private sector investment, is already transforming our city including the £80m regeneration of the Fruit Market area on our riverside; the £4.5m investment in the Ferens Art Gallery; the £16m refurbishment of Hull New Theatre; a £4.2m investment in Hull’s historic Old Town; a new £36m state-of the art performance, conference, music and events centre, the Hull Venue; and a £26m revamp of the city centre’s streets, public spaces and cultural venues.

Our aspirations don’t stop there as we will shortly be pushing on with our plans to develop the Yorkshire Cruise Terminal which will serve not only the increasing number of visitors to Hull but also the great destinations we have on our doorstep across wider Yorkshire.

The wider perceptions of our city are changing. This year Hull was named as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit by travel book publisher Rough Guides. In July Spencer Tunick’s mass participation art, Sea of Hull, attracted £5.5m of media coverage and full hotel 
occupancy across the city and TripAdvisor reported that visits to Hull had increased by 25 per cent.

The economic picture is changing too. Developments now totalling more than £1bn are flowing into the city. Siemens will open its new wind turbine blade manufacturing plant, investing £310m and creating over one thousand jobs; RB has invested £100m in a new health research centre in Hull; £200m is also being invested into a new energy works plant by Spencer Group; the University of Hull is investing £90m in new facilities; leading wound management business Smith & Nephew is investing £9.5m in its plant; and KCOM is investing £60m in the expansion of its ultra-fast fibre broadband network.

So, we all wait with huge anticipation for this week’s exciting announcements about 2017 and the events, partnerships and collaborations and cultural experiences that raise the bar.

We are confident that 2017 will put Hull, quite rightly, in the spotlight whilst remembering that next year will also be a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform perceptions of the city and to change the lives of local people. Most importantly, it will provide the springboard for a lasting legacy with our city moving forward with real confidence as a great place for people to live, study, work and play.

The vision that was crystallised in 2013 is fast becoming a reality. The stage is set, it’s our time.

Matt Jukes is chief executive of Hull City Council.