Hull has enjoyed the limelight but its future is a matter of 'ifs'

by Andrew Wells, partner in charge of Allsop, Leeds,

Hull made its mark during City of Culture

“Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three (rather late for me) in between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP”, wrote Philip Larkin, one of the cultural sons of Hull, in his poem Annus Mirabilis. Fifty years on Hull has just completed its own Annus Mirabilis as the UK’s City of Culture 2017.

Hull has had a fabulous year; testament to the impact the City of Culture status bestows on winning cities that can demonstrate that not only it can host the year, but also, crucially, show it can leave a legacy.

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On paper Hull had a lot to prove. Hardly fashionable and located at the end of one of England’s cul-de-sacs, its reputation outside of Yorkshire was tainted. Mention Hull’s cultural back story to an off-comer and you may have elicited The Housemartins and The Beautiful South, the aforementioned Larkin or, at a push, the birthplace of actress Maureen Lipman. T

But the past year has seen Hull come out of the shadows. The Turner Prize was awarded in the city and the Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars was a live musical event that attracted attention worldwide. Over 2,000 other events have also taken place. Shops, hotels, bars and restaurants took on extra staff to cope with 3.5 million visitors and 50 new businesses have opened. As with the London Olympics, the city smartened itself up and got its mojo back.

Such a rip roaring year does beg the question, what of the long-term impact on the economy and the property market? When its City of Culture status was announced in 2013 it wasn’t long after that Siemens announced it would make its largest worldwide inward investment – £310m alongside Associated British Ports – in a wind turbine manufacturing plant.

Being green is growing. Hull is now one of the UK’s leading centres for bio-mass handling with a new £150m facility for Drax Power. British Land was spurred on to install 1,100 solar panels on the St Stephens Shopping Centre, the first initiative of its kind.

Hull University has always had a solid reputation and is investing heavily in facilities and accommodation so graduates may be persuaded to stay on in the city. Reckitt Benckiser is also building a new £105m R&D Centre for Scientific Excellence.

Hull has always been an affordable place to live. House prices don’t seem to have responded significantly to the City of Culture year – up a very creditable three per cent in the year to October 2017 but at an average of only £108,497 they remain at roughly half of the UK average. Residential gross rental yields in excess of eight per cent are still attainable.

Large residential transactions in the year were mostly in the student sector and included the sale of about 90 of the university’s shared houses to Kexgill. Student Warehouse also sold its £18m house portfolio to an overseas buyer The University closed its £155m deal with UPP for them to provide a further 1,750 purpose built student beds to meet demand. Not surprisingly student applications are growing. If nothing else, the City of Culture status has fixed the city in the student psyche.

The last major art commission in 2017 was a light installation called ‘Where Do We Go From Here? It is as if the city itself isn’t wholly sure how it builds on its 2017 success. Indeed the entire City of Culture legacy is a matter of ifs. If the city can maintain the momentum; if it can secure World Heritage status for its old town; if it builds on its green energy credentials; if it continues to attract inward investment; if it retains its graduates. If it achieves only part of that, it will have been one hell of a year.