EFFORTS to make the Tees Valley a “City of Culture” in 2025 have been dropped.
Bids opened for cities and regions to vie to win the label last week after Coventry’s tenure began earlier this month.
But Hartlepool Council leader Shane Moore has confirmed the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) will not be pursuing the status for the region.
A push to make the region a “City of Culture” was first mooted in 2015, when former Teesside University vice-chancellor, Professor Graham Henderson, announced Tees Valley Unlimited and its partners should declare an intent to bid for 2025.
Two years later, the TVCA board – made up of Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland and Darlington council chiefs – backed a report recommending the groundwork for a bid was prepared.
However, enthusiasm for the idea cooled over time.
Delays on what the process will actually entail – and how much money may be spent on the bid – led to an alternative plan being drawn up before the pandemic hit.
In January 2020, Cllr Moore told a scrutiny committee there had been a “lot of apprehension” about whether a formal bid was worth the effort.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden officially launched the search for the UK’s new City of Culture last week.
But Cllr Moore, who is the TVCA’s cabinet member for culture and tourism, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the combined authority wouldn’t be pursuing the status.
“Ultimately, there was a little bit of confusion from the Government,” he said.
“When the initial timetable was set out for opening bids, nobody heard anything – and then there was talk of them potentially not going for cities and concentrating more on towns.
“There was a lot of ambiguity and a lot of questions.
“We needed to make a decision and know what we were doing.
“It was felt it would be much better to spend the vast amount of money it was going to cost us to bid into this on investing in the Tees Valley and building on the five key festivals we have in the boroughs.
“It would build our own cultural sector within the Tees Valley without having to go through any type of formal bid instead.”
The council leader estimated it would have cost around £20m to £25m to put a Tees Valley City of Culture bid together.
While success was not guaranteed, the process itself was seen as beneficial in boosting and strengthening the region’s cultural strategy.
But Cllr Moore believed they’d done that in the past 12 months without going through a formal process.
Asked if dropping the bid showed a lack of ambition, Cllr Moore disagreed.
“We’ve shown to the country internationally how ambitious we are as a region anyway,” he added.
“The plan we’ve put together and the work we’ve done instead of the formal bid for City of Culture shows huge ambition for the region.
“We don’t need someone to give us a pat on the head and give us a fancy title – we know we’re a fantastic region and we know we have an amazing cultural sector anyway.
“We’re just going to crack on and strengthen that.”
More than 29,000 jobs are linked to the digital and creative and culture and leisure sectors in the Tees Valley.
A task force was launched last year led by Annabel Turpin, from Stockton ARC, to help steer a recovery programme for the cultural and visitor sectors.
And in November, £16.5m package was signed off by council leaders and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen in November to help the culture, leisure and creative sectors on Teesside recover from the pandemic.
“That’s what we decided to do instead,” added Cllr Moore.
“The world changed and we needed to make sure we were responsive enough to make sure our hospitality and cultural sector was still around after covid.
“That’s more important than any title.”