'˜Nothing has changed' for Leeds European Capital of Culture bid, as pressure grows on Government to state intentions

Leeds will push with its European Capital of Culture dream, a key voice behind the city's bid for the 2023 title said today - as the deadline looms for the UK to state its intentions.

Phoenix Dance Theatre

Cluny Macpherson, the city council’s arts and culture chief, was speaking as political pressure started to grow on the Government to make good on its obligation to host the prestigious year of activities.

According to the rules, countries in the frame must launch a competition in their country seven years ahead of the year in question.

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And as 2016 comes to a close, the UK has still not made a firm commitment, with the Brexit vote - and recent interventions from Ministers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - having raised serious questions.

Mr Macpherson said “nothing has changed” in terms of Leeds’s intense preparations to officially bid for the title.

“We have been preparing for this for three years and done lots of work,” he said.

“It feels like we are on the starting blocks, have our team in place and have done all the training we need to do. We are just waiting for the Government to fire the starting pistol.”

He said Leeds’s bid champions have been “in communication with Government” and are trying to “explain and amplify the energy that there is in the city”.

“Our message is a strong case that countries that are not in the EU - such as Iceland, Norway, Turkey even - have hosted in the past,” he said.

“Our other message is the opportunity this gives to all the bidding cities, for fantastic benefits both economically in terms of tourism - and the evidence of that is very significant from previous cities - and also socially in terms of the impact very locally and how it transforms places.”

Asked what happens if the Government pulls the plug, he said: “We are not really considering that because all our energy is currently on the fact that we think it’s an obligation of the Government to launch the programme”.

Mr Macpherson reinforced Leeds’s position just days after the Scottish National Party put forward an Early Day Motion in Parliament, urging Ministers not to abandon its 2023 obligation, as doing so would be a “huge loss” for all the nominated cities, including Leeds’s fellow contender Dundee. Thirty MPs have signed the motion.