HULL’S bid to become UK City of Culture in 2017 could bring about an untimely clash with work on a major road improvement scheme it says is urgently needed.
The city made it onto a final shortlist of four last week in the race to be named culture capital, and it now has until September to overcome rival bids from Dundee, Leicester, and bookmakers’ favourite Swansea Bay, with the winner due to be announced in November.
It is likely that the waterfront and former fruit market area in Humber Street – now a thriving arts quarter where the city council chose to host a post-shortlisting meeting last Wednesday – would feature heavily in some of the 1,500 events it has planned for 2017 if it wins.
The area is bordered, however, by the A63 at Castle Street, Hull’s busiest road, and the city should find out next year if funding will be available for a £160m scheme to transform it.
If approved, construction would start in 2016 and take three-years to complete.
Asked to comment on the potential clash between city of culture events and the roadworks, a spokeswoman for the council said: “Well, this would be a nice problem to have.
“Hull has a lot going on and we will be working with all of our partners to make sure projects in our city plan, including city of culture 2017 and the A63 works, can happen.
“We have nothing but support from our partners to make things happen for Hull and the city region and discussions will take place in due course about how to make the best of all opportunities for the city.”
Speaking ahead of a visit to the site by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin last month, the council said: “The need to keep up pressure for this scheme has never been more apparent, especially if Hull is to develop as the UK offshore wind energy hub and the fruit market and waterfront areas are to be fully redeveloped.
“It is hoped that today’s meeting will show the Minister the urgency to deliver this scheme as soon as possible.”
Proposed improvements to the road include lowering and widening a section ease congestion, but it is also intended to vastly improve access between the city centre and the waterfront, particularly for pedestrians, who currently have to cross it at traffic lights.
The road carries about 35,000 vehicles a day, and when Hull was the host port for the 2009-10 Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, the city took the unprecedented decision to briefly close it to accommodate the tens of thousands of spectators who wanted to see it.
Arguing the case after the meeting with Mr McLoughlin, Hull MP Alan Johnson said: “What we are saying is if you do this and don’t get it right and reconnect the city centre with the waterfront, then you’ll come back and have a problem you’ll have to resolve in another 10 years time.”
Engineering consultants have been appointed by the Highways Agency to develop cost, preliminary design, construction, and environmental proposals for the scheme.
A spokeswoman for the agency said: “Start of work on the A63 Castle Street improvement scheme is subject to the satisfactory completion of statutory processes and the availability of funding in the next spending review.
“It is not expected that construction work would commence before 2016.
“The programme of works has not yet been finalised, but as a guide, we would expect preparatory works and archaeological investigations to be completed within 12 months of starting, with construction works starting after this and taking approximately three years.
“If we can deliver this sooner then we will.
“With a scheme of this size, if successfully progressed, there would inevitably be disruption but we would do all we could to minimise this.”