City of Culture 2021: Swansea Bid — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:27 am on 5th December 2017.

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[Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 2:30 pm, 5th December 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Swansea’s bid to be City of Culture 2021.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. Today I have the enormous pleasure of bringing forward this Westminster Hall debate. Hon. Members may be asking, “What is a city of culture, and why is it so important?” The UK city of culture is an award given to a city in the UK every four years. That city holds the title for the period of one year. The award was devised to support the sustainable regeneration of cities by positioning culture at the heart of city planning and development. Having previously reached the shortlist for UK city of culture 2017, Swansea is competing to be the city of culture 2021, and has once again been shortlisted. The panel of judges will make their decision this coming Thursday, 7 December, and my right hon. Friend the Minister will announce it. We could encourage him to announce it in this debate if he would like to, but he is being coy.

The current holder of the title is Hull, which needs to be congratulated on its excellent year as Britain’s culture capital. The winning city receives the right to hold various prestigious cultural events, as well as encouraging inward investment. While there is no monetary support or prize attached to the title of UK city of culture, Hull has successfully secured £15 million in Government funding, as well as £3 million from Arts Council England and £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the first half of its year as UK city of culture, Hull hosted at least 450 events, exhibitions and cultural activities, attracting over 1.4 million visits. It is estimated that Hull’s year as city of culture will lead to a £1 billion boost for its economy and an extra 3,500 jobs.

Swansea could replicate that, and indeed more. Swansea should be the next city of culture not because of unfairness, because we missed out in 2017, or because a city from Wales has never played host to the title; nor is it that Coventry, Paisley, Sunderland or Stoke would not make a worthy city of culture. It is because Swansea deserves it, and we all know how it would allow Swansea to develop and to begin a new chapter for that ever-evolving city.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that Swansea deserves the title in its own right, but he is also right to say that Wales deserves it. Here is a nation full of culture, wanting to share it with the rest of the world. I am from north Wales, but I will be supporting this all-Wales bid to have the city of culture. I have come off the fence: my son-in-law is from Coventry and my friends are from Sunderland, but I am sticking with the Welsh bid because we deserve it.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I am also surprised and delighted that he has some friends—that is even better.

The hon. Gentleman leads me on to a good point. Hon. Members may be wondering why the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is introducing this debate, which some people would expect to benefit south Wales and Swansea constituencies. My northern Radnorshire boundary is 100 miles from the city of Swansea, but the southern tip of my constituency is only 15 miles from the city centre. Like him, I firmly believe that if the bid is successful—I hope it will be—the city of culture status will not only benefit my constituents in the up-and-coming cultural centre of Ystradgynlais in the upper Swansea valley, but will be of benefit right across my constituency and to the whole of Wales to the north, east and west of Swansea. I do not say to the south, because those who know Swansea well will know that they will get their feet wet, and a little bit wetter, if they decide to go south.

Swansea is where the coast meets the city, where the city meets the country, and culture is a natural thread running through it like an artery. I was lucky enough to be born and brought up at the bottom of the Swansea valley, in what was then a very rural area. Now, of course, it has developed as a suburb of Swansea itself. Since my childhood, Swansea has changed considerably, and it continues to change. It is an area that constantly embraces change, hence why it is such a cosmopolitan city today.

Swansea has also had an ever-changing past. In the late 18th and early 19th century it was one of the top seaside resorts in the UK and a true destination for tourists. Its long, sandy beach brought in tourists from far and wide, and the continuation of the coastline around the Gower Peninsula rivalled any beauty spot in the country. It was later to become Britain’s first area of outstanding natural beauty. Then came a great challenge to the town, as it was then: tourism or industrialisation?

In 1840, a new identity was forged. New docks were built, foundries were established and Swansea became a key centre of the global copper industry. Wales can lay claim to being the world’s first industrial nation. By the late 19th century, south Wales was a global centre for heavy industry, coal production and maritime trade, and Swansea was central to that. Swansea expanded considerably throughout the great industrial age, bringing great wealth and also great poverty to the area.

The bustling town was then reduced to rubble during the blitz of the second world war. As a major port, with its ammunition-making factories and foundries, Swansea was a massive target. But we are talking about Swansea and its people, and like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the centre was rebuilt, with new buildings emerging and new life brought into the centre of the still-important city.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate—obviously a timely one, given the week it is in. As I live in and represent part of the city of Londonderry, the first ever UK city of culture in 2013, would he accept my saying that the phoenix rising from the ashes is an appropriate euphemism? One of the things that Swansea, if successful, needs to do is to harness communities across the city and the region of south Wales behind the bid and beyond the bid. There must be legacy projects so that people can say, “That is a tribute to what was achieved as a result of Swansea being successful,” if it is successful on Thursday.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Londonderry is, of course, a prime example, so we listen with interest and take his words very seriously.

Not long after the blitz, change was again on the horizon for Swansea. In the 1970s and 1980s, as the old industrial areas and manufacturing industries closed, vast areas of previously productive commercial and factory sites became obsolete and turned into waste grounds. Swansea was getting ready for yet another period of change. The old Swansea vale, once dominated by the smoke and pollution of heavy industry, now became a magnet for industries of a different type. It became a modern industrial park with high-tech companies, with a progressive out-of-town shopping centre. The city centre still includes a busy shopping core, at the centre of which is the legendary Swansea market, where people can still buy that great Welsh delicacy, laverbread, to go with their cockles and bacon, followed of course by the cultural Welsh cake. There is still a way to go to fully regenerate the city and see Swansea again become the world leader it once was. Being awarded the city of culture prize would be the catalyst for that transformation.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the debate to Westminster Hall. I offer him and all the hon. Members for Wales every best wish for Thursday. I hope they are successful. Part of that success spins off. As my hon. Friend Mr Campbell said, not only Londonderry but the whole of Northern Ireland gained from the city of culture status. The whole of Wales would gain from Swansea’s success.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; I am sure the Minister hears the cross-border, cross-country support for Swansea’s bid. I am sure that will weigh heavily on his decision.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

I make a confession: although I represent Cardiff Central, I am actually a Jack—I was born in Swansea. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the debate and join him in hoping that Swansea is successful on Thursday. Not only would that bring benefits to Swansea, but a lot of the people travelling to Swansea to see the city of culture will travel through Cardiff.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

We are honoured by the hon. Lady’s making such a confession in this Chamber. She should be truly praised for it.

We have heard of the history and the geography of Swansea, but what of the culture? Some examples of cultural initiatives run by Swansea include hosting: the British Science Festival; the International Dylan Thomas Prize; an artist-led regeneration of the high street; a range of arts and literature festivals; and the work of theatre companies at large. One of Swansea’s most famous sons is, of course, Dylan Thomas, who was born in the city and who based much of his early work on his experience growing up there. Do Not Go Gentle is a new fringe festival in the Uplands area of the city, where Dylan Thomas was born and lived for many years.

The Swansea Grand Theatre is the largest in the region, hosting many west end productions. Several independent theatre companies are also based there. In the summer, outdoor Shakespearean performances are a regular feature at Oystermouth castle—I know Carolyn Harris is a regular attender of those—and Singleton Park is the venue for a number of parties and concerts, from dance music to the outdoor BBC Proms in the Park.

In addition, Swansea hosts an international jazz festival every summer and an international arts festival in the autumn, where international orchestras and soloists perform in unusual venues, such as empty department stores, as well as Brangwyn Hall—a concert venue in Swansea praised for its acoustics for recitals, orchestral pieces and chamber music alike, not to mention its collection of the Brangwyn paintings. As a young man, prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, I sang there as a chorister. I am sure Opposition Members are terribly sorry they missed that, but I am sure the recordings are available at supermarkets near them.

Standing near Victoria Park on the coast road is the Patti Pavilion, which is used as a venue to stage live music and events and is named after the great Victorian opera singer, Dame Adelina Patti, who built her home at Craig-y-Nos in the upper Swansea valley, at the bottom of my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. There are also many independent galleries and artist studios, such as the recently expanded Glynn Vivian Art Gallery—a regional partner to the Tate—as well as a large number of live music venues.

The Liberty stadium is home to Wales’s only premier league football club—it is lucky for the hon. Member for Cardiff Central that she made that confession earlier.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

I would not place too much emphasis on that, bearing in mind that Swansea City are currently bottom of the premier league and Cardiff City are second in the championship.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Just as we are only partway through the Brexit negotiations, we are only partway through the football season, so let us see what happens.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Labour, Aberavon

And it could not get much worse.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

If the hon. Gentleman means the football, that is a fair comment.

The Liberty stadium has a capacity of 30,000 when used as a music or event venue. There is also the Great Hall and Taliesin Arts Centre, which are owned and managed by Swansea University. The venue hosts a broad programme of events, including cinema screenings, an average of 10 visiting exhibitions per year and a variety of live performances, from dance and drama to jazz and world music.

Of course, there is also the rugby, the football, the churches and chapels and the great food and drink. There are the places of learning—the schools and the colleges and, of course, the University of Swansea, with its outstanding new Jersey Marine campus. Then there is the Welsh language, which is renowned throughout the world. Who could fail to be moved by Welsh song and dance, including by our many Welsh male voice choirs, which lead the world?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Labour, Aberavon

The hon. Gentleman is making a passionate speech. He mentioned the Swansea bay campus. One important thing for the record is that that campus is actually located in the great constituency of Aberavon—I hope that has been noted by Hansard. On the internet coast proposal, to which we very much hope the Government will give their full support, does he agree that city of culture status would be a fantastic force multiplier for that investment in the Swansea Bay city region?

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is supportive of that scheme. Of course, Aberavon looks on to Swansea, and anything that benefits Swansea, or, indeed, Aberavon, will be of great benefit to Wales as a whole.

Swansea has produced many great sons and daughters who have turned into cultural icons of today and of yesteryear. Household names include, from broadcasting, Huw Edwards, Ian Hislop and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and musicians such as Sir Karl Jenkins, Bonnie Tyler and Dire StraitsTerry Williams. They also include rugby players and footballers including John and Mel Charles, Dean Saunders, Dan Biggar and Shane Williams, actors including Sir Harry Secombe, Rob Brydon and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and writers such as Dylan Thomas and Iris Gower. From the law—from the upper Chamber in this place—they include Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the former Lord Chief Justice, and from the Church, of course, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Many great politicians have come from Swansea—legends every one of them—but I shall save their modesty and not name anyone directly.

Swansea is now ready for the next chapter in its varied existence. It has the infrastructure in place to provide high-quality cultural services to its communities and to host a world-class product, but co-operation, collaboration and skills development across the sector, accessible to all its diverse communities, have not yet been realised. Swansea can build its reputation as a place of culture, learning and innovation. Although the universities are making great strides on that, many of Swansea’s communities have low confidence and a tendency to look inwards rather than outwards. I strongly believe that becoming UK city of culture could help to overcome that in ways that would be otherwise unachievable. I am confident not only that Swansea can deliver an exemplar year artistically and logistically, but that the social and economic impacts will be strongly and widely felt. As Mr Campbell mentioned, legacy and sustainability are key, and the bid committee are agreeing the structures and delivery partners to secure that through long-term engagement, skills development and employment opportunities, alongside the continuation of audience development and funding partnerships.

Having the opportunity to share that, to tell a new story about Swansea and to enable its communities to see themselves and their city through a new lens will build connectivity, cohesion, confidence and aspiration that will secure a better future for the city. A better future for Swansea supports a much wider hinterland, Wales as a nation and, ultimately, its relations with the UK and its global profile, as it stands side by side on an international platform, celebrating and broadcasting world-class productions.

I congratulate the team, led by the City and County of Swansea Council, in putting together the excellent bid, as well as the partner organisations for their continued and enthusiastic support. I hope that the city of Swansea, so described by the poet Dylan Thomas as the

“ugly, lovely town…crawling, sprawling…by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”,

becomes the 2021 city of culture.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 2:48 pm, 5th December 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your excellent chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the Swansea boy, Chris Davies, on securing this important debate.

I am so proud to call Swansea my home. It is the city that gave birth to Mal Pope, Bonnie Tyler, Russell T Davies of Doctor Who fame, Harry Secombe, Mervyn Davies—known affectionately as “Merv the Swerve”—and Kev Johns, a senior local Swansea celebrity. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire mentioned, Dylan Thomas referred to Swansea as:

“An ugly, lovely town…crawling, sprawling…by the side of a long and splendid curving shore.”

I am afraid I have to disagree with Dylan on that small point. Swansea was recently named the most beautiful UK city. It is hard to think of a more beautiful destination. We can admire the glorious coastline at Rhossili bay, voted Wales’s best beach in 2017, get lost in Singleton Park or gaze down at all of Swansea in its splendour from Kilvey hill in the proposed Skyline cable cars.

It is estimated that approximately 5.7 million people will visit Swansea if it is awarded city of culture status, spending more than £431 million while they are there. That will be a welcome boost for small businesses of Swansea and the surrounding region—businesses we are all supporting. Thousands of paid and voluntary roles will be created, including as artists, performers and apprentices and in tourism and event management. City of culture status may come with a one-year timeframe, but this is not a one-off arts project; it is a driver and accelerator of significant investment and a means to create more resilient and connected communities.

There will also be a programme for young people who are not in employment, education or training, as well as the disabled, those on low incomes and other social groups who need greater support to achieve their potential, by gaining work and volunteering experience. That will include 40 programmes run for and by older people, to address isolation and loneliness, communication, dementia and intergenerational support, alongside engaging some 2,000 students to volunteer or take part in cultural events or programmes that help them feel supported.

Culture is not simply about the arts. This will reinforce the culture of community integration and the wellbeing of the 685,000 people living in the Swansea bay city region. The unifying theme of Swansea’s city of culture bid is “Turning Tides—A City Revealed”. Would it not be fantastic to finally see the Government commit to Swansea bay tidal lagoon before 2021?

I represent the east side of Swansea—a constituency that I love, and that no one could convince me to move out of at any cost. In that region of Swansea, families are more likely to have a lower income. The team behind our city of culture bid has recognised that and will implement measures to ensure that Swansea residents do not miss out based on geographical location. Residents of Swansea East will be supported through ticketing, transport and family learning activities in their communities and in the city overall.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is shining the spotlight on each shortlisted city this week, starting with Coventry last Friday and Sunderland today. I see it as fate that Swansea is being celebrated on Thursday, the day that the overall winner of city of culture 2021 is announced. I will be watching “The One Show” avidly with bated breath this Thursday—parliamentary business permitting—to hear the city of culture 2021 announced as Swansea. I have every faith in Swansea’s ability to deliver a winning bid, and I for one cannot wait to share my ugly, lovely town with you all.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower 2:53 pm, 5th December 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate Chris Davies on securing the debate. Having been brought up in Swansea East and educated in Morriston Comprehensive, he knows the area well.

Swansea and the Gower is the hidden gem of Wales and the United Kingdom and deserves far more attention than it currently gets. My constituency of Gower would benefit greatly from the extra publicity, with tourism being a major employer. Gower, located within the Swansea region, is one of the most beautiful and picturesque areas in the world. In fact, the Gower peninsula was the first place in the UK to be named an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Gower has so much to offer as part of this city deal. It has four blue flag beaches—Bracelet bay, Langland, Caswell and Port Eynon—and five beaches with the green coast award for natural and unspoiled environment, including the little-known Pwll Du cove. Going around the peninsula, Rhossili to the north was voted the UK’s best beach, as my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris said, as well as the third-best beach in Europe and the ninth-best beach in the world, with rare birds and wildlife and the sight of shipwrecks along the beautiful coastline. There are so many beaches and picturesque areas of coastline that there is even an app for people to navigate their way around the peninsula.

Sport is a way of life. The surfing and water sport beaches of Llangennith and Caswell are a great attraction for thrill seekers and beginners, with the option of lessons from the brilliant Gower surf school. Next summer, you may even catch me on a paddle board going around the Mumbles. Mumbles is always a popular attraction with tourists and has so much to offer. The Swansea bay rider, a land train operating between Blackpill and Mumbles, offers a fun way to travel and enjoy the bay, with great sights such as Mumbles pier, boutique shops and—thanks to Italian families such as my own in the area—the option of ice cream from Joe’s and Verdi’s. It also hosts the Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat station, which is a vital service for ensuring safety across the coast.

Apart from the obvious highlights of the peninsula, my constituency has a lot more to offer, with heritage centres in Clydach and Gower, the latter offering a 12th-century working water mill. Loughor town hall is undergoing a major redevelopment, and glorious woodland walks can be found in Coed Bach Park in Pontarddulais, which has green flag certification.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is speaking with real passion for the constituency she represents. She is a true champion of the people and communities of the Gower. Just up the road is the equally wonderful constituency of Ogmore, which is full of rolling hills and valleys and lots of walking opportunities. Does she agree that part of the success of the bid, if it is granted, will be the wider cultural aspects and recreational and physical activities on offer in constituencies such as mine, as well as Aberavon and so on, for people who are visiting?

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower

That is a very important point to highlight. Walking and exercise are very important and form the recreational part of the bid. What happens in Swansea will then filter down into nearby constituencies.

We also have some amazing food, from cockles and oysters from Oystermouth to Salt Marsh lamb from north Gower, delicious Gower Cottage brownies and Gwyr gin, which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East has still to taste. We are unique in what Swansea can offer. We have the local Gower and Mumbles breweries—I believe my predecessor even brought some of those breweries’ products to the bar. I hope that Members will be ordering their Gower Christmas trees. A tree from the Gower Christmas tree farm in Three Crosses is proudly displayed in Downing Street this year.

However, there is room for strengthening our offer to be city of culture for 2021. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon would be a pioneering piece of infrastructure for renewable energy, harnessing the power of the tides. The lagoon will be a world first and will shine a light on Swansea with an inspiring new infrastructure, offshore visitor centre, arts programme, sculpture park and more. The deal is vital for the city, and I hope it is considered as well as the bid.

My constituency has so much to offer to secure this bid and deserves recognition as one of the cultural hubs of south Wales. Many parts of Gower are hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Swansea’s being awarded the city of culture will put Gower on the map and bring much-needed investment, along with the £1.3 billion city deal. This bid is supported by many Members across the House and across the country, including my hon. Friend Emma Hardy, who has stated how Hull’s recognition as city of culture has had such a positive impact, not only financially, and is fully behind the bid for Swansea city of culture 2021.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West 2:58 pm, 5th December 2017

It is a great pleasure to follow my friends, my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and of course Chris Davies. I am so glad we have come together as a team across Wales, having agreed at a reception that I convened to collectively put in this bid. Everyone in the room is so strongly in support of a successful bid for Wales and in particular for Swansea and the Swansea bay city region.

We have heard today a glowing history of where Swansea has come from, including its industrial history in relation to copper—it was known as Copperopolis—and coal, and the problems that we faced during the blitz. We were brought through industrial turmoil and change to where we are today, confronting a new era of challenges with Brexit and regional poverty and deprivation in the context of Europe. Of course, Swansea has a very rich history of culture, which has been echoed in the speeches today, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, and a rich natural beauty.

My own family have been in Swansea for five generations, and during that time we have seen a continuance of unity, creativity and resilience, alongside change. It is a changing community, but we still have a lasting identity. As has been said, we are the only Welsh city that has been put forward for the title, and we feel a great responsibility in holding the mantle for Wales: the language, the songs, the poetry and the nationhood. We feel proud to be coming forward.

Many of the famous stars of Swansea have been mentioned. In the context of the Swansea bay city region overall, we think of people such as Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Katherine Jenkins, and of course Dylan Thomas is our most famous son, an international brand name that is known across the world. Indeed, Swansea itself is a global brand name thanks to our footballing success. There is a connectivity between the poetry and culture and the international branding. UK city of culture is also a very strong brand and would be another very important way of bringing vital inward investment to communities that are in many senses struggling.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower mentioned our world-class coastline. In fact, Gower was the first area to be named an area of outstanding natural beauty in Britain, and it remains as she described.

Swansea is a community of communities, interlinked and interwoven, working together for the common good. That is one reason why Swansea’s theme for the bid is “Every Wave has a Voice”. The proposition is basically that we are all individuals, but working collectively we have a louder voice, and we will pull together, in harmony, for the good of all, particularly in difficult times.

We have a lot going for us. The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery has just been refurbished. The Taliesin Arts Centre puts on stuff. There is also the Grand Theatre. Of course, we have the Liberty stadium, which hosts great sporting events but is also a music venue. With the university, both the Bay campus in Aberavon and the Singleton Park campus, there is an opportunity to host cultural events. With our venues and communications, we have the means to be a first-class city of culture. We have the National Waterfront Museum, which is also a great place to host art.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

My hon. Friend mentioned music. UK Music’s most recent figures show that music tourism results in a direct spend in the whole of Wales of £95 million a year. Much of that will be spent in Swansea. Does he agree that our passion for music in Wales and in Swansea is an integral part of the city of culture bid?

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Yes. I am very pleased to hear that intervention. Music is at the heart of all Welsh people, across Wales, and in Swansea it is a vital part of our identity. I mentioned the Liberty stadium, where there have been various big concerts. Music is a vital part of our attraction for tourists. Again, we need to invest in the cultural infrastructure to amplify the voices of the local people and give them opportunities in culture and the arts.

The Minister will know from his own experience and office how important tourism and culture are to exports and, as my hon. Friend Jo Stevens has just said, how important music is. The music industry relies more these days on audiences rather than direct sales of records, as they used to be called, or even downloads. I am referring to live music, amplified, and we certainly want to be given opportunities to host that.

The Welsh language has of course been raised. We are very proud of our Welsh language, and the Government are supportive of it. Again, we would want to use the city of culture title as a way of amplifying and sharing more widely the diversity of the languages within the UK. We are moving forward into slightly unknown territory because of globalisation, and people are also looking back at their own identity. This is an important moment for Welsh history, and we hope that we can take this crown.

In Swansea, we face real challenges in relation to poverty. People living within a mile of one another might have a difference in average life expectancy of seven years. The Swansea bay city region of west Wales is regarded as one of the poorest parts of Europe. That is why we are beneficiaries of convergence funding, which we will no longer attract. It has been mentioned that in the case of Hull, something like £1 billion was generated through the magnet of tourism attractions and activity. We have a lot to offer, whether it is the football, the Ospreys, the music, the language or just the general friendliness and warmth of the people of Swansea. There is a community of restaurants and there are opportunities to go around the more than 100-year-old city centre market, whose fresh products go through our restaurants. That provides a new offering to visitors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East mentioned the lagoon. We have great support locally for our lagoon. Basically, the project involves green electricity from tidal energy, and we continue to press the Government on that. Again, we hope that, if successful—it was given the thumbs-up by the Hendry review—it would itself be a tourist attraction that would help us rise to the challenge of being the UK city of culture.

We have hopes for the electrification of the railways, alongside a Swansea bay city metro, which together would reduce the journey time from Cardiff to Swansea from an hour to half an hour, making the opportunities for visitors much greater. Of course, if we were the city of culture, there would be mutual benefit. The business case for electrification and the Swansea metro has been cast into doubt by the Government. They have been asking about the journey times and the level of demand: “What is the business case?” We are now saying that if we combine the half-hour reduction in journey time with the city deal that is coming forward and the extra investment for new jobs, and if on top of that we had the city of culture title, there would be an overwhelming case for electrification. The reduced journey time would multiply through, as my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock said, and give extra bonuses to an area that has been hit by difficult times.

We can look at the changes in social security. That might involve universal credit or a trimming down of public expenditure. It might be the bedroom tax. All these things have a disproportionate impact on Swansea bay and Swansea. The community wants the tools to succeed, and it is very much a cultural city, which would look to take full advantage of what could be a £1 billion investment.

We hope to attract more and more international visitors as well. The expansion of the university has enabled many more international friendships to emerge. We hope to use the university investment alongside the cultural investment to attract more tourism income, which would have a halo effect right across Wales and the UK.

I will not go on much longer, Mr Wilson; I know that other hon. Members are keen to speak. I will just say that the voices that we hear from Swansea are rich in terms of diversity—there are various communities and people have different nationalities, of course—art, music and industry. The keenness to combine the cultural contribution and the economic contribution to provide a stronger, fairer future for Swansea is embedded in the proposition that “Every Wave has a Voice”. As the city of culture, we would help to ensure that those voices were heard.

Finally, as has been mentioned, Londonderry in Northern Ireland had great success as a city of culture; in Scotland, Glasgow is the European city of culture; and most recently, in England, Hull has been a city of culture, so we feel it is time for Wales to receive the crown. Who could be a more fitting successor than Swansea, the queen of Welsh hearts?

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn 3:10 pm, 5th December 2017

Why am I speaking today about Swansea when I represent a constituency some 25 miles along the M4? I cannot propose to speak with the same passion as my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi). When we hear them speak, it is obviously a case of “Cut them and they bleed Swansea”. It is important to have representatives who feel so passionately about the constituencies they represent. I want to thank them on the record for everything that they do for the city they are so passionate about.

My experience of Swansea is limited to betting shops. I worked in Jack Brown bookmakers for several years. I remember the fantastic villages of Cwmbwrla, Gors and Townhill, and I still feel the fear running up my spine—no, I am joking. We are talking about the city of culture today, and I want to talk about my experience of living and growing up in Wales for the last 40 years of my life. I was born in the mid-’70s and brought up in the Rhondda in south Wales. We were made to believe that people did not care about us. We never heard anybody ever mention Wales. Or if they did mention Wales, it was always in a negative sense.

I remember, many years ago, the national lottery coming to the Rhondda Heritage Park. We all crowded down there because it was a national event. We were all there, and there was a male voice choir dressed up as miners, with black marks on their faces, as though they had just come up from underground. We were disappointed, because that was not our image of Wales. The innovation, the cleverness of our communities was not coming forward in the national image. People had an image of us in soup kitchens and on the breadlines, only interested in going down the pub and getting drunk or whatever, because our industry had gone away. That is why it is so important that Swansea wins the bid to be city of culture.

We have an image problem still. There are people who do not visit Wales who believe that we are in some sort of post-industrial meltdown. I say let them come to cities such as Cardiff or Swansea to see how the Champions League, the premier football event, was hosted in Cardiff. Let them see how many tourists that brought in and how many people were shocked by our culture.

When I was a kid, I did not have many Welsh icons because there were none on the television. I remember being moved by my great hero, Richard Burton, who was born in Pontrhydyfen, just down the road from Swansea, as he quoted, “Do not go gently into that good night”—

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

That is what we must do when we are advocating Swansea as a city of culture. We are raging against that negative image of Wales. That is why it is vital we have the city of culture, but it is also important for Swansea itself.

For a city that has an unemployment rate of 5.3%—higher than the rest of the UK—the city of culture would be a massive confidence boost. It would mean that Wales is front and centre. When I look at previous bids, I am concerned that Swansea is the only flagbearer for Wales. If the city of culture goes to England once again, what message does that send to the regions of Great Britain? Jim Shannon talked about how Londonderry, or Derry City, benefited from being a city of culture. Wales must have the same thing. I am not denigrating Stoke, Coventry or Sunderland; I am just saying that Wales needs this more than ever. We need to be in the shop window.

As has been mentioned, we have great stars such as Catherine Zeta-Jones. Dylan Thomas has already been mentioned. When I think of Swansea, I also think of “Twin Town”—I think they are making a sequel—and we remember how they denigrated it and how somebody twisted Dylan Thomas’s words about an ugly, beautiful town and called it something else. I remember Dougray Scott standing outside the train station and saying Swansea looks like “a pretty”—bleep—“shitty city”. Oops, I just said it! [Laughter.] I’m going to be on the news for that one, aren’t I? I am sorry, Mr Wilson; that was a direct quote from a film, but that is how people saw Swansea, and Swansea needs to change that image.

Swansea has academic institutions. My old university, formerly Trinity College, Carmarthen, now Trinity Saint David, University of Wales, has a strong engineering section. We also have the Richard Burton archives in Swansea. We have museums, and heritage plays an important part, but much of our heritage has been lost. Swansea was called the copper capital of the world at one point, but as the heavy industry went away, the heritage was taken away. The museum warehouse has the sailboats and vintage vehicles, but much of our heritage went away. We have only the culture now, which is what we need to put over. I do not know whether the Minister has ever visited Swansea, but it is a unique city. It has a seafront. It has wintry nights, and I know the Swansea Members here will say it is one of the most beautiful cities when it is lit up by the wintry sunlight as well.

I support the bid, not only because I know how beautiful Swansea city is and how beautiful the people are. Above all, I support it because if Swansea wins the bid to be the city of culture, Wales will win as well. We should get behind the bid and support it. Regeneration is important in post-industrial cities. Phil Redmond, the producer of “Brookside” and “Grange Hill”, comes from Liverpool and he will know how important regeneration is. I hope he will look favourably on the bid. I really hope we have some good news on Thursday.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire 3:16 pm, 5th December 2017

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Wilson. It was a late decision to contribute to the debate, but I want to join in the enthusiasm in the Chamber and for Swansea to be chosen as the city of culture.

Montgomeryshire is a long way away from Swansea, but in my view it is Wales’s turn. It does not matter whether people are from Montgomeryshire or Ynys Môn—Albert Owen has left the Chamber—the selection of Swansea would be a great achievement for Wales, and would benefit the whole of Wales. I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Davies on securing the debate. He explained his support for Swansea with his constituency 15 miles away. Although I represent Montgomeryshire, when I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales I represented Mid and West Wales, also 15 miles away from the centre of Swansea, and it included Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. My main point is that I want to support Swansea’s bid.

The big issue in terms of fairness across Britain is moving investment and wealth away from the south-east corner and away from London. It is moving successfully to Cardiff, but we need to move it further west. That is the only way we will develop Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Swansea is a key staging post and developing the city of Swansea is absolutely key to the whole of west Wales. The same applies in mid Wales. The key to mid Wales might be Birmingham. In north Wales it might be Manchester or Liverpool. We have to draw the investment and economic activity west, which is what investment in Swansea does.

We have talked about the historical icons of Swansea. I have always been fanatical about sport and still am. I watch the Ospreys, but I do not watch Swansea at the moment because I do not get the chance—I desperately hope they manage to retain their premiership status. It is important to us and the derbies next year with Cardiff will be absolutely terrific. My greatest hero of all came from Swansea: John Charles. I met him and I am old enough to remember him playing. He was amazing. He was the greatest forward in Europe, and the greatest centre-half in Europe. I think £65,000 was paid for him to go off to play in Italy, which was unheard-of money then. He was a precursor of Gareth Bale and more, but he was a back as well as a forward. He was a wonderful man. When I met him it was one of the greatest of privileges. The BBC invited me to a dinner that he was at. He was elderly and failing in health, but for someone so great he had incredible humility. I looked on him as the greatest sportsman I knew, and he came from Swansea.

I wish the best of luck to the bid. I desperately hope that it wins, for the sake of Swansea and Wales.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

I thank the hon. Gentleman for supporting the Swansea bid. Apart from anything else, there are only 3 million people living in the whole of Wales, and he made the point that we are very connected, nationally. The Swansea bid, as he said, will shift the focus of investment from Cardiff, which is on the English side of Wales, westward through Ceredigion. The nation has only 70% of average gross value added. We can make the most of the investment, and in Swansea we will make sure that it delivers for the whole of Wales.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I completely agree. Let us all give our full backing to Swansea, and let it be known that we shall be most displeased if it is not selected.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 3:21 pm, 5th December 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate Chris Davies on securing the debate and on his excellent speech in support of Swansea for the city of culture. He told us that his constituency stretches down very close to the boundary of Swansea in the town of Ystradgynlais, and reminded us of the city’s history, including, in particular, the fact that Swansea was among the cities that suffered heavily during the blitz in the second world war. Often that is not widely recalled; Swansea really suffered at that time.

We had a wonderful contribution from very good friend Carolyn Harris, who is a passionate campaigner on many subjects—a successful one, who I am sure hopes to be successful on this occasion. Her description of Swansea made it sound rather like the garden of Eden.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

I hope she is not suggesting that original sin was invented there, but her description certainly conveyed the beauty of the city and its environs very well.

My hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi lives in a beautiful constituency at the edge of Swansea. I know it is beautiful because my sister, Colleen, lives there. I recommend anyone who has never visited the Gower to do so, because it is one of the most beautiful places in Wales, Britain or, in fact, the world. My hon. Friend’s talents know no bounds. I knew already that she had won nine caps for rugby, for Wales, and I knew that she had recently won the House of Commons darts competition; but I did not realise she was such an avid paddle boarder. We all look forward to coming down to Swansea to watch her undertake that pastime. She mentioned Joe’s ice cream: other ice creams are available—but not many, if any, are as good as Joe’s, and she was right to highlight that wonderful Swansea institution. She rightly challenged the Government about the tidal lagoon project. Although the Minister is a man of great influence and power, we do not expect him to make the announcement today in the debate—unless he is feeling so inclined—but I encourage him to encourage his colleagues to get on with it. We heard about the importance of Swansea’s industrial heritage, but Swansea has a wonderful future, and is the best place in Britain to build a tidal lagoon. I hope that the Government will announce their support for the scheme in the near future.

My hon. Friend Geraint Davies mentioned the Welsh language and its importance to the city of Swansea and to the city of culture bid. Perhaps we should mention its Welsh name, Abertawe, as the bid is a bilingual one, and it is right that even here in the UK Parliament, where we use English, we should use that name.

My hon. Friend Chris Evans spoke passionately about the influence and impact that Swansea’s becoming city of culture could have on the image of Wales. He is right to emphasise that issue. When I joined Cardiff Council in 1991 we set up a body called Cardiff Marketing and we did some studies of what image of Cardiff and Wales people had. Many people living in London thought Cardiff was about six hours away by train, and full of coal mines—an utterly inaccurate picture. Swansea is, by car, a mere 45 minutes beyond Cardiff, and the journey would be much shorter by rail if the Government would get on with the electrification of the line beyond Cardiff to Swansea. That would have the kind of impact that my hon. Friend was calling for, if the title of city of culture were to be used to promote economic development and a better image. He quoted Dylan Thomas, and actually corrected his grammar to “Do not go gently”, whereas Thomas did not use the adverb, and said “Do not go gentle” in the poem. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his superior grammar, despite his slight slip of the tongue later in his remarks.

I congratulate Glyn Davies—I want to call him my hon. Friend; I have known him for many years—who rightly mentioned John Charles. There would have been a big lacuna in the debate if he had not. The “gentle giant” was probably the greatest ever Welsh sportsman—and there have been many great Welsh sportspeople, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gower. John Charles was probably the greatest, and if it had not been for his being kicked off the park during the 1958 World cup and therefore being unavailable for the quarter final against Brazil, when Wales was beaten 1-nil after a goal was scored by an unknown 17-year-old called Pelé, Wales probably would have won the cup.

I want to make a few of my own remarks about Swansea and the city of culture bid. The scheme was set up in 2009 by the Labour Government. They established a UK city of culture competition, with the aim of making creativity and culture part of the answer in difficult economic times, rather than a luxury for the small number of people who could afford them. I think it has been a successful programme, and I am pleased that the current Government are carrying on with it. I commend them for doing so. It allows cities and groups of towns to show what culture means to them, instead of being told what it is through a top-down check list. The city and its residents are rightly at the heart of the process. As we have heard, in Swansea’s case it is not just the city but a whole nation that is behind the bid.

Since 2009, the programme has had a tremendously positive impact in Derry/Londonderry, as we have heard, and currently in Hull. When Derry/Londonderry was city of culture, it became clear how much the city had changed since the time of the troubles, and it was an important way of changing its image. Hull residents have told us that since it was given city of culture status, people are even more ready than they were to gather together as a community, and that they feel even prouder of their city than they were before it won the prize. In both cases, becoming the UK city of culture has drawn attention to and encouraged parts of cities that were already flourishing, but that were not always seen beyond their own borders, in other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is clear, then, why a number of cities are bidding for the title in 2021. All the shortlisted contenders are strong. The House will understand why, speaking from the Front Bench, I cannot back a particular city’s bid, even though I am a Welsh MP. I think that I have never disagreed with my neighbour and very good hon. Friend Jo Stevens. She made her own interjection in the debate—I will say no more than that.

It is clear that Swansea is an excellent candidate to be city of culture. We have heard a lot about the poet Dylan Thomas who, as well as his poetry, is known for his colourful personality. I remember learning “The Hunchback in the Park” at school:

“A solitary mister

Propped between trees and water

From the opening of the garden lock

That lets the trees and water enter

Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark”.

As a lover of poetry, I think it would be wonderful for Swansea if it could win the title of city of culture, and Dylan Thomas could be even more widely recognised. Scotland has its Burns night, and I always think that we should have a Dylan Thomas night in Wales to recognise our greatest poet in the English language.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Does my hon. Friend agree that if Swansea were to win the city of culture 2021, people would be able to plan visits to Swansea, based around Dylan Thomas and other cultural icons? High Speed 2 will reduce the journey time from London to Manchester by half, down to one hour and eight minutes, and at the same time we are pressing to reduce the journey time to Cardiff and Swansea through electrification. Alongside fears that there will be a displacement of investment towards the HS2 corridor instead of to south Wales, does my hon. Friend agree that winning the title of city of culture would be a major influence in buoying up the local economy across south Wales and Wales, at a time of uncertainty?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that I agree with that.

We have already heard the famous quote by Dylan Thomas about Swansea as an “ugly, lovely town”. Well, he was right, it is lovely, and perhaps once it was ugly. Now, however, it is a beautiful city, not an “ugly, lovely town”, and today people can visit wonderful cultural institutions in Swansea, such as the Dylan Thomas centre that we heard about earlier, which opened in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of his birth. They can also visit 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, and that is a short walk from Cwmdonkin park—the subject of the poem that I recited earlier—where there is a blue plaque and a permanent exhibition to commemorate him.

It is not only Welsh writers who have an association with Swansea. We have not yet heard mention of Kingsley Amis, who spent many years as a lecturer at University College, Swansea. He wrote “Lucky Jim” and “That Uncertain Feeling”—that was later made into a film with Peter Sellers called “Only Two Can Play”—while living in the Uplands in Swansea. It is a town with a real literary and cultural background. My very good friend, the artist Paul Edwards, is from Swansea. It is full of theatres, castles and galleries and has a vibrant cultural life.

As we have heard, Swansea University goes from strength to strength. I recently visited the new campus at Jersey Marine, and the Morgan Academy, which was set up in memory of the late, great Rhodri Morgan, who was my predecessor as MP for Cardiff West and the former First Minister of Wales. Given all that, it is clear that Swansea’s cultural life is truly worth celebrating, and its bid is very strong.

I would like briefly to mention the European capital of culture, because I think that relates to today’s debate. I have asked the Government for a list of meetings that were held in 2017 on that issue, given the recent announcement by the European Commission that Britain’s bid for European capital of culture will be withdrawn. Unfortunately, in answer to my parliamentary question, the Government referred me to a public list of meetings that goes only until June this year, and I think that we need a more serious response to explain what happened with the European city of culture. I hope that the Minister will be able to make a passing reference to that, and say a bit more about why the UK Government, and the bidding cities, which were spending money up until the last moment on their bids, were so blindsided by the announcement that the European capital of culture competition would not be going forward in the UK. I hope that the Minister will confirm—I am sure he will—that the competition for UK capital of culture will be going forward, and that the bidding cities have not been wasting their time and money.

We have heard a lot about the kind of impact that being city of culture can have. It does not magically create culture where it does not exist, but it celebrates and encourages great work that is already being done but is often under-publicised. As such, Swansea is already a city of culture, regardless of whether the bid is successful. I hope that the UK city of culture competition continues to thrive, and champions the cultural activities that make cities and towns across the UK such wonderful places that we can be proud of.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:35 pm, 5th December 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Davies on securing this important debate on Swansea’s bid to become the UK’s city of culture 2021. As always, I acknowledge the contributions of all Members who have contributed so passionately this afternoon. The full spirit of the UK city of culture has been on show, and a great depth of knowledge has been shown about Swansea and all its cultural attributes. This has been a very worthwhile debate as we get into the final stages of this competition.

The House has already heard similar debates on the four other towns and cities shortlisted to be the next holders of the UK city of culture title—Coventry, Paisley, Stoke and Sunderland—so this debate will be the last in the present series. Kevin Brennan managed, with typical skill, to include in the debate the issues of the tidal lagoon and electrification. I will not be able to respond to those points from my position in DCMS, but I acknowledge his concerns and will take them back to my colleagues.

Before I begin the substance of my speech, I wish to say a few words about the European capital of culture programme, which has featured in the headlines in recent days. I am sure that many Members of the House were, like me, shocked and dismayed by the position taken by the European Commission two weeks ago, which is that the UK cannot host the title in 2023. That went against everything that had happened up until that point, and we had no expectation that it would occur. Five UK cities have, like Swansea, invested huge amounts of time, resource and commitment in developing their bids, only for the Commission—at a point when the bids had already been submitted—to sweep the rug from underneath them. I know that Swansea, together with the cultural sector right across Europe, has expressed its solidarity with the five UK cities of Belfast, Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Nottingham. We are in urgent discussions with the European Commission about its action, and in positive talks with the five cities themselves—I met representatives from them all last week, and I hope to update the House more substantively in the near future.

The UK city of culture programme grew out of the success of Liverpool’s tenure as European capital of culture in 2008. As Minister for the arts, I see this programme as one of our nation’s Crown jewels. The winning area must build a high-quality arts and cultural programme of national significance that reaches a wide variety of audiences and participants. As we have seen with Hull, winning the city of culture title must be a catalyst to regenerate and transform an area. Cities must demonstrate that they are ready and able to grasp the opportunity provided by the title. I was moved by the speech by Chris Evans, who spoke about how things were when he was growing up, and the cultural gap that was perceived to exist. Providing an opportunity for transformation is exactly the purpose of this programme, and that case will be made by all the bidding cities.

This year, 11 places from across the UK set out their ambitions to become the next city of culture. Following a recommendation from the independent panel, chaired by Phil Redmond, I agreed a shortlist of five in July. It is hugely gratifying to know that those areas that regrettably did not make the shortlist—Hereford, Perth, Portsmouth, St Davids, Warrington and Wells—are all continuing with their ambitions. They see their bids as the beginning of something, not the end. I sincerely believe that that will be the case for all those that are unsuccessful this week. As has been referred to, Swansea bay was shortlisted for the UK city of culture in 2013 when it narrowly lost out to Hull, and it is clear that, while ultimately unsuccessful, the bid was an important step in the city’s cultural development.

Now, for the shortlisted towns and cities, decision day is fast approaching. We have about 51 hours to go, and as we speak my officials and the independent panel are en route to Hull, where they will receive presentations from all five areas before making their final recommendation. As Carolyn Harris said, Swansea will present its bid on Thursday morning, and I will announce the winner later the same day. Some might say that is an unusually quick and efficient process for Government.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

I know that the Minister will be looking, as the panel will be, at the past, present and future cultural offering for Swansea and other places, but will he be looking very carefully at relative deprivation? I say that because, as he knows, the average UK gross income is £19,106 but the average in Wales is £16,341 and in Swansea, £15,604. Weekly, that is £550 for the UK and less than £500 for Swansea. Can he confirm that he will be looking at the impact on deprivation and the inclusivity of these bids?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The independent panel will be looking at a whole variety of factors. It will be looking at what advantages, and the extent of those advantages, the different bids are likely to accrue to their given cities, and the economic advantage will be one of the elements that they look at very carefully.

As with the other debates, I thought it would be helpful to set out the benefits of the city of culture. Speaking of Hull, it is helpful to reflect in this debate on how much is to be gained from winning the UK city of culture title. Hull City Council estimates that the local economy has benefited from £3.3 billion in total investment since being awarded the title in 2013. Seven out of 10 Hull residents say that the UK city of culture status is having a positive effect on their lives. As I have mentioned in previous debates, Hull 2017’s volunteers have already undertaken more than 300,000 volunteer hours. City of culture status has helped to restore local pride, and who can forget Hull City’s fans singing, “You’re only here for the culture!” at a premier league match earlier this year? Ironically, I think they were playing Swansea at the time.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

Although this is just an anecdote, does the Minister think it represents Hull? I remember going to a Cardiff City match against Hull where the Hull fans had a big banner saying, “Ghetto of excellence.” I think they can lose the “ghetto” bit now, after city of culture.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady makes a fine point. Hull has seen brilliant engagement with the arts.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Let me make a little progress and then I will come back to the hon. Gentleman. I wonder what he has to say.

Hull has seen brilliant engagement with the arts, with nine out of 10 residents attending or experiencing at least one cultural event in the first three months of the year—it might be higher now as we get to the end. That is more than double the number engaging in such activities before the city’s successful bid.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

I was going to have a watching brief in this debate and hold my tongue because there have been many great speeches to why Swansea should be the city of culture. Based on the football element, the Minister will be aware that the local football side St Mirren has renamed its stadium the Paisley 2021 stadium in support of the bid. That highlights the huge support it has across Paisley, Renfrewshire and indeed Scotland.

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman, as expected and quite rightly so, makes another plea on behalf of his home bidding city of Paisley. I have received so many representations and passionate requests on behalf of the bidding cities. We do not have long to wait, but I do acknowledge the quality of the bids across all five cities, and it is very sad that only one can win this week.

I pay tribute to the many national institutions, from the BBC to the Government Art Collection, that have also contributed to the success in Hull. We have seen genuine collaboration across the whole of the arts and cultural sector.

I now come to the substance of this afternoon’s debate: Swansea’s bid to become the UK city of culture 2021. One of the enormous pleasures of my job is learning about the history and culture of towns and cities across the UK, and I try to visit as many of them as I can. I have learned that Swansea has an incredible 32 miles of stunning coastline, that Swansea Museum is Wales’s oldest public museum, and that the Welsh National Opera originated in Swansea. I was clearly already familiar with the “ugly, lovely town” described by Dylan Thomas and now a thriving city, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West pointed out.

Swansea is rightly proud of its most famous son and I know that the Dylan Thomas Centre is one of the city’s great attractions, with ever-increasing participation figures. Back in 2013, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded nearly £940,000 for a three-year project that centred on the celebration of the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas. A range of organisations across Wales participated in the celebrations, including the National Library of Wales, which showcased an archive of Dylan Thomas material in a major exhibition. Most importantly, the Dylan Thomas Centre has the lasting legacy of a permanent exhibition, “Love the Words”, which opened on 27 October 2014—Dylan’s 100th birthday. This interactive exhibition tells the story of the work, life and cultural context of Dylan Thomas, and includes a learning space, activities for children and a temporary exhibition area.

I acknowledge other important cultural institutions, including the National Waterfront Museum, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Plantasia and the Grand Theatre. In fact, VisitBritain has included the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery’s hosting of the “Leonardo da Vinci: Ten Drawings from the Royal Collection” exhibition as a key reason why international tourists should visit Britain in 2017. There are also many independent galleries and artists’ studios, digital workspaces and live music venues. Wales’s first dedicated space built purely for use by the creative industries is located in Swansea’s Urban Village development in the city centre, and both the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea University offer a range of graduate and undergraduate courses in the creative sector, encouraging new and exciting start-ups and performing arts companies to thrive.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

I am enjoying the Minister’s speech, but I just want to point out to him that we have two engines in the universities there that are producing enormous numbers of qualified people in both the arts and the sciences. One of the things we lack is the retention of those people in the city. Does he agree that city of culture status would enable them to stay in their home and build the economy, with visitors and tourism helping to fuel that fire?

Photo of John Glen John Glen The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Throughout this debate the hon. Gentleman has made a number of passionate interventions showing an encyclopaedic knowledge of Swansea, as anyone would expect, but he is absolutely right on this point. The effect of cultural investment in creating a stickiness and a magnet for businesses to want to continue to invest and for employees to want to stay is really important. That is a significant feature of what we have seen in Hull: more investment and people wanting to stay there. Whichever city is successful later this week, we hope that that will be replicated in four years’ time.

Swansea has its own international arts festival and an international jazz festival, which I believe is now the largest in Wales. The Heritage Lottery Fund has provided almost £25 million for projects in Swansea, including the aforementioned Dylan Thomas exhibition, a number of HLF Young Roots projects and the All Saints Church restoration. As we have heard, following its city deal, Swansea is also going through a period of major physical transformation, investing in the largest regeneration programme the city has seen since world war two. I am very heartened to know that culture, creativity and this city of culture bid are right at the heart of these plans.

From all we have heard this afternoon, it is abundantly clear that Swansea, in common with the other shortlisted areas, has the heritage, vision, infrastructure and cultural leadership to be the next city of culture. Whichever city wins, I am sure that they will be very worthy winners and will continue the journey that began in Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and has continued so spectacularly in Hull this year.

In conclusion, I sincerely wish the city of Swansea the best of luck in presenting their bid to the panel this week. As I said, in just over 51 hours, I shall announce the winner on the recommendation of the independent panel, chaired so well by Phil Redmond.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 3:50 pm, 5th December 2017

I thank the Minister for his conclusion. It is clear that he is not the judge alone; he is the conduit to deliver the judges’ address and result on Thursday, but any influence that he can exert over them would be gratefully received by those of us in Swansea. We have clearly heard today that this is not just a city bid but a national bid. We have had support from Anglesey to Aberavon, covering a vast area—a rural area and a city area—and adjacent cities and counties across Wales. This is a very important bid to the people of Wales, and certainly to the city of Swansea.

I thank all my colleagues from all parts of the House for the cross-party support for Swansea’s city of culture bid. I am grateful to have so much support and to hear the various views and bids for Swansea to be given city of culture status. We have heard a lot about Swansea’s background and history—it was how I began my opening speech—but the city of culture bid is all about the future. It could offer so much to the people of Swansea. From youngsters going through school to the children who have not even been born yet, all can benefit from Swansea being named the city of culture for 2021. This is very important to us. As I said during my initial address, I was not pushing and supporting the bid from a feeling of unfairness because we had missed out in the past. Like all my colleagues, I support it because Swansea truly deserves to be the 2021 city of culture. Let us all hope on Thursday for the right result to be announced—that Swansea will be that city of culture in 2021.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered Swansea’s bid to be City of Culture 2021.

Sitting suspended.