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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 11:26 GMT
Joining the culture club

Bradford and Milton Keynes are among the contenders vying for the title of European Capital of Culture. What is in it for them?

Former industrial cities and a town with the highest number of roundabouts per capita are among the contenders to be the UK's European Capital of Culture.

Bradford, Newcastle and Milton Keynes are among the potential candidates vying for the honour bestowed annually by the European Commission.

Aspirants to the title
Bristol, possibly teamed with Bath
Newcastle and Gateshead
Milton Keynes
Member states take it in turn to nominate a cultural capital, and it falls to the UK in 2008 - the first time since Glasgow was named European City of Culture in 1990.

Bids have to be in to the government by March 2002, with the winner chosen the following year.

This week, representatives from the competing cities will attend a national conference in Bradford.

The title is widely viewed as a ticket to economic regeneration and a licence to print tourist pounds.

Despite its then reputation as a city which tourists stumbled upon by mistake, Glasgow embarked on a successful campaign for the award in the mid-1980s.

Thanks to a 80m makeover and the heightened profile afforded by the title, the Scottish city now attracts the highest number of overseas visitors behind London and Edinburgh.

Lasting legacy

According to a report prepared for Glasgow City Council, the 1990 celebrations received invaluable media coverage at home and abroad

Good Friday Agreement leaflet
Continuing conflict could sink Belfast's bid
"To pay for the newspaper space taken up would have cost more than 5.4m. Through television and radio, Glasgow received positive publicity worth more than 15m in more than 48 countries."

The year-long event resulted in sustained economic and social benefits, the report says.

Not only were soot-blackened buildings designed by the late art nouveau architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh refurbished, new projects such as the tramway and the Royal Concert Hall got the green light.

Eight new festivals were set up, of which six continue a decade later.

Lessons from the past

Conference organiser Paul Brookes, of the Culture Company, says the aim is take lessons from past forays into similar events.

Bob Palmer, who headed Glasgow's successful bid, and Dome chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau are among the speakers.

Angel of the North
Iconic image: Newcatle's Angel of the North
Staging such an event can be a poisoned chalice. If the reality falls short of the expectations, it can all go horribly wrong, Mr Brookes says.

"That's been the experience at the Dome, compared with Tate Modern, where the reality has far outstripped the expectations."

One key to success is to get the "vision" right and to set achievable goals, Mr Brookes says.

Although the contenders have more than a year to get their bids in, Mr Brookes says several frontrunners are already emerging.

"Belfast will be a strong runner if the political situation works out, and Cardiff is also looking like a strong contender. And Newcastle and Gateshead have been doing a lot of work."

Belfast is reportedly spending 350,000 on its bid; Liverpool has enlisted the aid of Sir Bob Scott, who masterminded Manchester's failed Olympics bid; and Bradford, best-known for its curry houses, has appointed a 60,000-a-year director of culture to hone its proposal.

Magic roundabouts

Milton Keynes, world famous in the Home Counties for its concrete cows and some 300 roundabouts, is one of the less obvious candidates.

roundabout sign
Milton Keynes: Taking a roundabout route to success?
Yet Glasgow itself was a surprise choice - the award had previously gone to cities "oozing with cultural heritage", Mr Brookes says.

Instead of trying to sell itself as a Scottish Paris or Venice, Glasgow redefined what culture meant and in the process revamped its own image.

"Although the first ones ran what amounted to summer arts festivals, that was 15 years ago - we now recognise that culture isn't the same thing as the arts.

"It's up to Milton Keynes to come up with a concept that it can deliver."

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30 Oct 00 | UK
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