‘PEOPLE are slow to leave it, quick to return. And there are others who come, as they think, for a year or two, and stay a lifetime, sensing that they have found a city that is in the world, yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance.’
Evocative words written by the incomparable Philip Larkin in 1982 when he tried to describe the spirit of Hull as its fishing industry ebbed away, they are even more pertinent after this sleeping giant became the 2017 UK City of Culture.
Even a poet as gifted as Larkin would struggle to put into words the significance of this momentous decision – and how it affords Hull a once in a generation opportunity to sell its “resonance”, or “Hullness” to use the more contemporary parlance spoken on the banks of the Humber, to the wider world.
In short, this is the most significant announcement in Hull’s recent history, one which eclipses the construction just over a decade ago of The Deep maritime centre and the KC Stadium which have already proved to be great catalysts for economic renewal alongside, more recently, the St Stephen’s shopping centre and a new state-of-the-art venue for Hull Truck Theatre.
It is also a fully deserved vote of confidence, one with a potential economic spin-off of £60m according to some estimates, in a city that has been on a voyage of discovery since Larkin identified its redeeming character with such poignancy 30 years ago.
As its traditional industries declined, and young people of talent started to leave Hull because of a dearth of opportunities, the city became too introspective with its never-ending civic strife which was so damaging. This tide only started to turn once political and business leaders started to work together to unlock Hull’s trapped potential rather than becoming over-reliant on government grants.
This unity of spirt has, of course, been made easier by the feelgood factor that has emanated from various sporting successes – Hull City is holding its own in the Premier League; its two rugby league teams are redoubtable forces and Olympic boxing champion Luke Campbell has true to his Hull roots.
That such an inspiring individual preferred to remain in Hull, rather than taking off down the Clive Sullivan Way at the first opportunity, shows how much the area has changed – a social evolution that will gather even greater pace as the countdown to 2017 begins.
Ten years ago, a City of Culture bid would have been unthinkable. One year ago, and Hull was still perceived to be a no-hoper competing against rival cities like Dundee, Swansea and Leicester that were favoured by many to land the ultimate prize. Weeks ago, and some still had their misgivings.
Larkin may have written about ‘resonance’ but ‘resilience’ is perhaps a more apt description in these circumstances. For once, the city refused to give up – a costly character trait of the past – and it put together a cultural programme that could not be more diverse or uplifting.
It also offered the most compelling of the four bids because it also did not shy away from the many economic and education challenges that remain. These are still formidable and it is a paradox that this future City of Culture is home to some of the worst literacy rates in Britain’s schools. In that regard, this opportunity could not be more timely if it gives children a motivation to appreciate the importance of language.
It also shows that anything is possible if the collective spirit is strong enough. And, as Philip Larkin’s poetry implied, Hullensians – a buzzword that can, perhaps, be added to the 2017 Oxford Dictionary in deference to these cultural celebrations – will never have a better chance to demonstrate how this once maligned city has emerged from the shadows and reinvented itself with such creative ingenuity.
IN an irony of timing, it was John Prescott, a son of Hull, who laid the foundations for planning policy when he proclaimed that “the green belt is a Labour achievement; and we intend to build upon it”.
In defence of the Deputy Prime Minister, his intention was to preserve the green belt while the pugnacious Eric Pickles, the current Communities Secretary, is still intent on simplifying planning laws.
The consequence is idyllic land in the Yorkshire countryside, or cherished green fields on the periphery of towns and cities, coming under sustained pressure as planners pay insufficient attention to the need to ensure there is the infrastructure to support new housing developments – issues such as roads, drains, GP availability and the quality of local schools.
And then there is the Government’s desire to ditch the Code for Sustainable Homes – a mechanism that has enabled new properties to be built to the highest possible standards of energy efficiency and so on.
Mr Pickles argues that these rules penalise the construction industry. Others, including local councils, claim that these measures – including surface water run-off – are vital if new homes are to be affordable to heat and be protected from the risk of flooding.
In short, this approach is likely to reaffirm the view that the Government is prepared to back housebuilders at any cost – even though it was David Cameron who was championing the notion of localism’ when his Big Society agenda was prevalent.