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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
'Our Tyne has come'
Eclipse viewers in front of to Angel of the North sculpture
The future's so bright...
Alastair Gilmour

The final six cities chosen to battle it out for the title of European Capital of Culture 2008 have been named. Alastair Gilmour explains why he believes Newcastle Gateshead should carry the crown.
There's a feeling around Newcastle and Gateshead that an exciting era is approaching for the whole of the North East.

One commentator said: "The Angel of the North is about to take flight." The time now feels right to share that confidence with the rest of the world.

Newcastle Gateshead is being seen as a leading contender by the bookies for European Capital of Culture 2008 and that's no surprise - many people can't imagine anywhere that could represent Europe better.

Great North runners
A visitor centre is planned to celebrate the Great North Run
It's a spectacularly photogenic university city with a history spanning 2,000 years - from the Romans onwards - boasting a honey-coloured classical Georgian city centre with more listed buildings than anywhere in the country except Bath.

Its visionary historic personalities - ranging from the Venerable Bede to George Stephenson - developed ideas that changed the world.

It's also wildly contemporary, however, with a reputation for innovation, design and enterprise that reaches every aspect of life.

There's a sense of courageous ambition about it all, from beautifully functional new buildings and ground-breaking engineering, such as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, to public art in the shape of the Angel of the North; from science and academia at the International Centre for Life's genetic research campus to Northumbria University's celebrated fashion students.

It's not just a city, it's an unforgettable experience.

Alastair Gilmour
Newcastle Gateshead looks out to Europe - its geographical position has encouraged daily trading and cultural links with the Continent for centuries and that's reflected in the distinctive culture of the people and the place.

Tentative cultural links with European cities Bergen, Gothenburg, Tallinn and Gdansk have cemented into close partnerships.

It's not just a city, it's an unforgettable experience. Newcastle and Gateshead have been supporting culture and the arts for decades and both local authorities spend more per head on culture than any of the other bidding cities.

Some world-class developments are under way with Baltic, The Centre for Contemporary Art opening on 13 July; Music Centre Gateshead in 2004 and the National Centre for the Children's Book in 2005.

Millennium Bridge being fixed into place
Bridging Gateshead and Newcastle quays, the Millennium Bridge
Three major theatres - Theatre Royal, Newcastle Playhouse and Live Theatre - and the regional dance agency Dance City, are about to undergo major expansion along with several museums and art galleries.

There's even a visitor centre planned to celebrate the Great North Run and a new Centre for Youth Culture. A European Youth Football Championship is planned for 2008 alongside European Challenge Games, European Voices, Eurofolkus, River Alive and Co-Opera projects.

But it's not just the massive 3bn, 10-year infrastructure investment plan that makes Newcastle Gateshead a likely winner. It's the breathtaking ambition of the plans to not just involve local people but be led by local people.

Newcastle University's admin building
Historic architecture
Inheriting The World, for example, will see 2,008 schoolchildren from Newcastle Gateshead, South Africa and Eastern Europe visiting one another's countries to exchange ideas, language and understanding.

There are 1,000 events in a 100m programme scheduled for 2008. A substantial amount of that money will ensure that people who may never before have had access to cultural events and activities will be able to take part in and enjoy distinctive events.

There are some projects, such as the Grainger Town and Quayside restoration, the Proms at Baltic Square, the Knowledge Campus, the Angel of the North and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, that could only happen in Newcastle Gateshead.

Ant and Dec
North East's new cultural ambassadors
The area has proved itself at the cutting edge of public art with Thomas Heatherwick's Blue Carpet the latest in a long line.

Two NHS hospitals will break new ground by including art and performance spaces in their design, building on a solid foundation of art and culture for the entire community, regardless of ethnic background, age, gender or ability.

The bid itself was the result of consultation with thousands of local people and organisations and their unanimous view was to make the European Capital of Culture Year have a long-lasting benefit.

That's why the joint 10-year cultural plan - unique in the UK - has been produced to make sure the benefits are not only worthwhile but long lasting.

Just watch the Angel's wings.

Click here to go to Tyne

Results of your vote into European city of cultureCulture vote
Results of your voting on UK cultural cities
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10 May 02 | UK
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