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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Cities of cultural contrast reveal bids
Photomontage of Capital of Culture 2008 cities
As 12 cities across the UK enter their bids for European Capital of Culture 2008, BBC News Online's Caroline Briggs looks at three English entrants.

Bradford may not be a natural choice when choosing a city to showcase Britain's cultural heritage.

Better known as a "curry capital" than "culture capital", the city had been defined in recent years by a textile industry in tatters and racial tensions thrusting it into the national spotlight.

Likewise, Newcastle and Gateshead with their strong industrial past and stereotypical "beer and football" image is unlikely to be near the top of the list.

But journey south to the city of spires, and Oxford conjures up a very different image.

Salts Mill
Salts Mill near Bradford has been designated a world heritage site

In the words of Joe Simpson, the co-ordinator of Oxford's bid, the city simply is culture.

He told BBC News Online "Oxford inspires. There is something about the place that encourages original thought, innovation and our academic heritage is exemplary.

"If you went around Europe an asked people where Bradford was, it wouldn't get such a huge recognition.

"Bradford and Newcastle are regenerational bids... Oxford is a showcase for culture and creativity.

It is hard to disagree.

A world leader in academia, with stunning architecture and an impressive literary history, Oxford's has had a wide-reaching influence on British culture.

Culture bidders
Newcastle Gateshead

With Whitbread-winning author Philip Pullman as the bid's patron and long-time home to Iris Murdoch, it is unsurprising that literary projects make up part of the city's bid.

But brush aside the stereotypes, and hardened industrial places like Bradford and Newcastle and Gateshead reveal their charms in a brand of culture unique to their industrial heritage.

Oxford has little to rival the exciting capital projects springing up around Tyneside. The Millennium Bridge and Baltic Arts Centre - a former flour mill - are just two.

And although their bids are essentially different, there are many between economic and social parallels between Bradford and Tyneside.

While Oxford enjoys one of the lowest rates of unemployment and poverty, Bradford and Tyneside have some of the worst.

It is vital that we are shortlisted and very, very important to the future prosperity of Bradford people that we win

Paul Brookes, Bradford bid co-ordinator

Although all three areas would relish the knock-on effects a win would invariably bring, it is Oxford who least needs the financial boost.

In Newcastle and Gateshead, who have entered a joint bid, it is estimated the culture crown would attract four million tourists, create 17,000 jobs, and attract investment.

That could only be good news for an area decimated by foot-and-mouth disease and decline of traditional industries.

In Bradford too, the demise of the wool making industry means the city is facing an uncertain future.

Paul Brookes, Bradford bid co-ordinator, is unequivocal when it comes to expressing the importance of taking the title.

He told BBC News Online their bid was "vital" to the future regeneration of Bradford.

Cultural diversity

Mr Brookes said: "It is vital that we are shortlisted and very, very important to the future prosperity of Bradford people that we win."

He described Bradford and the surrounding district as being at a "crossroads" in terms of economic and social change.

Indeed, the bid slogan is taken from the David Hockney's photomontage "Pearblossom Highway - One Landscape, Many Views", which depicts a crossroads.

Their bid for the culture crown is described as "a people's bid" and at its core is the city's mix of multi-cultural influences.

But if cultural diversity is the city's wealth, it is also responsible for poor outside perceptions.

Bradford riot
Race riots rocked Bradford in July

Bradford was one four northern towns and cities that witnessed widespread race riots in summer 2001.

It is something the organisers have taken in their stride and tackled in the bid they submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport last week.

Mr Brookes said: "People who have never visited Bradford do have negative perceptions of the city.

"These perceptions were not helped by the riots of last year.

"Strides are being made to change the situation, but everything is far from perfect. We still have a long way to go and winning the culture bid would help that."

Bradford also has grand plans for capital projects including the redevelopment of the impressive Victorian architecture dotted around the district.

Music Centre, Gateshead
Gateshead's new music centre is under construction

At first glance, it appears Newcastle and Gateshead's bid is defined solely by such projects, such as the Gateshead Music Centre due to open in 2003.

Neil Rami, chief executive of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, told BBC News Online they were just the start.

"The big stuff is almost done. We are not promising to have these big projects completed by 2008, in Newcastle and Gateshead most are complete or underway.

"We have been investing in the capital infrastructure for years and now we want to make the most of them."

Newcastle and Gateshead were revealed as the bookies favourite at 3-1 as the final bids went in last week

Close behind were Belfast at 7-2 and Liverpool at 5-1.

Birmingham and Bradford were at 8-1; Oxford and Brighton at 12-1; Norwich, Canterbury and Bristol 14-1and Inverness was at 20-1.

A judging panel will draw up a short-list of bids to be announced in the autumn and the winning bid is due to be revealed in early 2003.

Click here to go to Bradford

Click here to go to Tyne

Click here to go to Oxford
See also:

27 Mar 02 | England
Tyneside's 3bn culture hope
30 Jan 02 | England
Musical shelters just the ticket
03 Oct 01 | England
Riots clash with culture title
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