UK City of Culture: Southampton’s Bid

– in the House of Commons at 9:49 pm on 19 April 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 10:02, 19 April 2022

I am most grateful to Mr Speaker for having granted this debate on Southampton’s bid to be city of culture 2025.

Before I make that pitch, I want to dwell for a while on what culture is to all of us, and the reality is that it will be different for different people. It will vary according to place and time, and it will of course vary according to age. What is culture to one person may well not be to another, and the bid for Southampton has made sure to ask people to consult widely, particularly with the region’s young people, to find out what culture means to them.

Culture can be many things—art, music, sport, food, history, place, dance, architecture, invention—but above all that, to me and to Southampton, it is community. It is the people who have come here, and created, built, established and enjoyed what it is that we have that brings us together. This bid has really brought us all together—councils of different political hues, MPs representing both Labour and Conservative, and councillors working hand in hand—to make it through to the final four and to promote all we have to offer.

To make the pitch is easy, and it is made easier still by the broadening of the search to find the UK’s city of culture to include wider regions. Southampton lacks nothing, but once we have included the wider Solent region, we have absolutely everything.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Conservative, Eastleigh

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to outline how important this bid is to the community not only in Southampton, but in the wider Solent region. In Eastleigh, we are home to Hampshire Cricket with the Ageas Bowl, and there are various heritage sites in the wider Solent region. Does she agree with me that it is really important, particularly given what she mentions about councils of all political persuasions coming forward, that this bid really does have cross-party support? It is supported by a huge array of people around the region, and that is why Southampton and the wider region should be the city of culture in 2025.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend; he is absolutely bang-on and I will mention some of the fantastic attributes Eastleigh is bringing to the wider bid. I am heartened by the strength of the partnerships supporting the bid, as my hon. Friend emphasises.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

On that, may I point out that all parts of Hampshire would be interested in partnering with the city of Southampton in its bid to be city of culture? My own constituency of Basingstoke brings the likes of the Anvil theatre, one of the top 10 concert halls in Europe, as well as the Haymarket and the Proteus theatre. There is a wealth of support there for this bid, and that can also help with the legacy which is so important and I know my right hon. Friend puts great store by.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the legacy and I was going to move on to that. From Bournemouth and Poole in the west of the region to Portsmouth in the east—and my right hon. Friend has brought in Basingstoke at the north of the region—many areas are seeking to support and partner with the city in making this bid.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I thank the hon. Member for generously giving way again. I rise both to demonstrate the all-party support for this bid and because I want to ask my right hon. Friend—as the right hon. Lady is for this purpose—whether she considers the proud multicultural heritage of Southampton since the 12th century of welcoming different cultures and communities into the city and learning from them and establishing them in the process to be an integral and central part of the city’s bid for city of culture 2025 and why it should win that coveted title?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I thank my constituency neighbour, and on this occasion hon. Friend, for making that important point and wonder whether he has predicted one of the next chunks of my contribution.

As I have said, we are all celebrating this bid. It is being celebrated by neighbouring authorities and by organisations, business and community groups alike, and an impressive list of ambassadors. It is being supported by the schools, colleges and universities across the region, by the National Oceanography Centre, by our collective museums, art galleries and theatres—which my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller referenced—by the stadiums, parks and sports centres and above all by the people.

Instinctively, when we think of Southampton we think of the Solent and the water, but our bid is not just about boat shows and regattas, brilliant though they are; it is also about the ripple effect of our culture, the tide of Solent water that rises not just once, but twice a day, and carries people with it. There is a tendency to think of people using that tide to leave the city. After all we have a park and a theatre named after the Mayflower, Southampton was where the Titanic set sail on her ill-fated maiden voyage, and it is the cruise capital of the UK, but that tide has, as my constituency neighbour Dr Whitehead said, also historically brought people to the city. As a result, it has a rich and varied culture, with over 150 languages spoken, with places of worship of every religion we can think of, and an annual peace walk that brings all faiths together. It is a city that celebrates and enjoys difference and diversity while also working hard to bring people together, and of course that is what being the city of culture is all about and can accentuate, widening the reach of that strong maritime history, and enabling the wider region to participate in the legacy this bid seeks to bring.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this mission of addressing need and creating opportunity is important for both Southampton and the wider region and the ripple effect she spoke about? My Gosport constituency has some pockets of real need and deprivation but also a jewel of heritage, particularly naval heritage, which is so important to celebrate. There is so much potential through this bid to benefit the wider area in both levelling up and also celebrating the things we treasure. That is why I agree that this is an important bid for us to win.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. She is right. We do have a rich maritime history. The trading character of Southampton but also the Royal Navy heritage of Portsmouth and Gosport are key to this.

As I was saying, when it comes to faith, it is not just about the mosques, the gurdwaras, the Christian churches, the Friends meeting house, the synagogue and the Vedic temple; there are also the shrines to the sporting prowess that the region has in abundance. In this bid we celebrate many religions—that of sport, of music, of food. St Mary’s is a fabulous church, where the annual Titanic memorial service is held, but it is also where we worship idols like Ted Bates, Lawrie McMenemy and the current bid ambassador James Ward-Prowse. In 2019, another bid ambassador, Southampton’s own Craig David, played there—a concert, I hasten to add, not on the pitch. And we do music in the city, from youth orchestras to festivals, at concerts on the common, and in places like the Engine Rooms and the Joiners. And we most certainly do food. The bid chairman is Masterchef winner Shelina Permalloo, who runs her Mauritian street kitchen in Bedford place. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor had his first job at Kuti’s famous brasserie, and we have food from literally everywhere. I always say that food brings communities together, and whether it is the big iftar at the Medina mosque or the langar at the gurdwara in Peterborough road, you can point to examples across our city where we come together to celebrate and to eat.

There are other, different types of temple, across the region—those that celebrate sport like the Ageas bowl, which my hon. Friend Paul Holmes has already referenced, the home of Hampshire cricket, in neighbouring Eastleigh—and my thanks to that borough for supporting the bid. The village of Hambledon, known as the cradle of cricket, is in the Winchester City Council area, which is also backing this bid. Even in the Solent itself we play cricket. Who would have thought that it was a water sport, but the annual Bramble Bank cricket match happens in the Solent, in late August or early September, dependent upon the tides I have already referred to, literally half way between Southampton and Cowes—which brings me on to some of the more interesting partner relationships, because even Portsmouth is backing this bid. Those who understand the region know there is a challenging rivalry between the two cities, but there is wide recognition that what benefits one will also benefit the other, in terms of visitors, volunteering hours, participation and even levelling up.

Levelling up is not something that is geographically limited to the north. There are challenges in the south as well, as my hon. Friend Dame Caroline Dinenage said. Sometimes Southampton has been described as a northern city in the south, but of course we do have our own character. You only have to look at what city of culture has achieved for Liverpool and for Hull, bringing places together, bringing a focus for activities and an ongoing legacy. That is one of the crucial parts of the city of culture. I would like to pay tribute to the Southampton bid team, who have made legacy their focus, recognising the year of culture would be 2025, but securing ongoing commitments from businesses and organisations which stretch far beyond that. They have looked at the challenges we face, contemplated the difficulties that the pandemic has brought, and recognised that mental health, particularly for men, has been a big issue, and they have developed a programme of events to include everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity and faith. They have celebrated our rivers—the Itchen and the Test, which combine in the Solent. We have a rich maritime history, which you might expect to be an enormous theme.

But this is also a region which has much to celebrate in the sky. The Spitfire was designed and built here, in Woolston, but tested over the hills of King’s Somborne, much further north in my constituency, and it protected us during the second world war. The first ever website was developed by Tim Berners-Lee, a professor at Southampton University, and while one may not be able to see and hear the world wide web in the same way one could the Spitfire, it has come to dominate our lives, as the debate immediately prior to this one ably demonstrated. And this is a bid earthed in our land, with the open parks and the adjacent New Forest, and the South Downs national parks. It is also a bid for the future, celebrating technology and the changes that that brings. So I say to the Minister, and to all those assessing this bid, that we know that we have a great deal to offer, so let us make it so.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:14, 19 April 2022

I thank my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes for securing this debate. She is a great advocate for Southampton—indeed, the whole area—and is rightly enthusiastic about it having been shortlisted recently in an intensely fierce competition; a record number of places applied this year. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed this evening.

The UK city of culture is a key part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s broader offer to level up across the UK. That reflects the fact that culture is a catalyst for investment in places, and drives economic growth and regeneration. Delivered by DCMS in collaboration with the devolved Administrations, the quadrennial competition invites places across the UK to set out their vision for culture-led regeneration. The city of culture is also about highlighting the role that culture plays in the heart of our communities, with the aim of promoting social cohesion, instilling pride and making places even more attractive to visit, live in and work in.

It is worth reflecting briefly on the many benefits that previous winners of the title have enjoyed. More than £150 million of public and private sector investment was invested in the 2013 winner, Derry/Londonderry; and the 2017 winner, Hull, saw 5.3 million people visiting more than 2,800 events. Coventry, despite huge challenges posed by the pandemic, has developed an extraordinary programme of events that have put culture at the heart of social and economic recovery. Some £500 million has been invested in city-wide regeneration since it was confirmed as the UK city of culture. The city has seen more than £172 million invested in the likes of music concerts, public art displays, the new Telegraph hotel, a new children’s play area in the city centre, and improvements to public transport.

Given those benefits, it is no surprise that finalists in the 2025 competition were whittled down from a record 20 initial UK-wide applications. Southampton, along with three other locations—Bradford, Durham and Wrexham—was approved by the Secretary of State to be shortlisted for the 2025 competition. This was based on advice given to the Government by the independent expert advisory panel. The panel, which is chaired by Sir Phil Redmond, will assess the finalists against criteria such as placemaking, levelling up, UK and international collaboration, opening up access to culture, and creating the lasting legacy that my right hon. Friend spoke about. The panel will make its final recommendation following visits to the four shortlisted places and a final presentation next month. The winner will be announced in Coventry in late May.

As my right hon. Friend eloquently set out, Southampton is a young and very diverse maritime city. As she said, it is brimming with culture and has a huge amount to offer local people and visitors. There is a world-class music scene, and it has many festivals, including the literally mouth-watering food festivals she mentioned. There is also a wide choice of theatres, galleries and museums. The city is home to two universities, which welcome students from all over the world. Southampton has world-leading research into cancer, science and maritime engineering, and minds that famously connected the world through the invention of the world wide web, which she mentioned. From ancient waterways and five centuries of shipbuilding to the making of the Spitfire and the south of England’s Science Park innovation hub, Southampton is a city of enterprise. Alongside that, the area has seen significant investment in arts and culture. Arts Council England national portfolio organisations in the local authority of Southampton have received nearly £10 million between 2018 and 2022.

Southampton’s UK city of culture bid is being delivered by Southampton 2025 Trust, a partnership including Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton, Solent University and GO! Southampton. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise their dedication and give thanks for all their hard work so far. The bid team are using the process as an opportunity to further enhance perceptions of Southampton and showcase the city to the rest of the UK and the world. They are aiming to celebrate diversity, attract more visitors to the city, encourage enterprise to support home-grown businesses and cultural organisations, and boost opportunities for their young people.

For the first time, the eight longlisted places from across the UK received a £40,000 grant to support their application ahead of the shortlisting stage. The intention was to ensure a fairer competition and aid places in developing deliverable plans. However, this is not just about who wins the competition; there are clear benefits to all places that take part. The consultation process that forms part of the bidding engages local communities and organisations, and that can result in enduring partnerships. Scalable plans can also be developed, and can then still be carried out to some extent if the city does not win.

For example, Hull was unsuccessful in winning the 2013 title, but came back to win the 2017 title. Sunderland, which bid for the 2021 title, created the momentum to form a new arts trust, Sunderland Culture; achieved enhanced Arts Council England funding; and mobilised a lasting team of community volunteers. Paisley, which also bid for the 2021 title, has since raised funds for its museum and hosted a range of major events, including UNBOXED’s About Us, which launched last month. Norwich, which bid for the 2013 title, went on to be the UNESCO city of literature.

However, I do not want to be pessimistic. Obviously, there are huge benefits for those that do not win, but there are also huge benefits for those that do. DCMS wants all bidders to take advantage of the bidding process, and we are committed to working with those who do not win to continue to develop partnerships, advance culture-led change and strengthen cultural strategies, and signpost upcoming opportunities and funding.

I commend Southampton’s commitment to winning the UK city of culture competition 2025. There is clearly a very strong case, which has been laid out by hon. Members from across the House this evening. Of course, I wish all shortlisted bidders good luck in the final stages of the competition.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.