Julie Elliott, Labour MP for Sunderland Central, led a Westminster Hall debate in which she said a successful bid would allow the city to ‘prosper and grow’ as well as show the rest of the UK how culture can transform a city.
Fellow Wearside MPs Bridget Phillipson and Sharon Hodgson also joined the debate.
Ms Elliott said in her speech to open the debate: “If we won 2021 would be the culmination of ten years of preparation. Over these years a revival has begun, a renaissance shaped and powered by culture. We have embedded arts and culture at the core of our economic masterplan and invested heavily both in infrastructure and people’s creativity and talent.
“We’ve done this with the generous help of others – particularly through valued partnerships with Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund who have bought in to our vision and supported us. If you visit Sunderland now you will see physical regeneration happening on a scale I can’t remember. Sunderland needs 2021 to make sure our resurgence continues, that the next generation can see every reason to stay in the city and no reason to leave.
“Our bid has galvanised and united the city. Businesses, our university, our college, our local housing group, our football club and organisations throughout the city have stood as one with the people of the city in supporting the bid. It’s not lukewarm support, but passionate backing for a project that the people want and the city needs.”
And the MP added that support has also come from our near neighbours: “Our bid has also garnered the support of people from across the North East region. Even the old rivalries between Sunderland and Newcastle have been put to one side, with Newcastle City Council passing a motion in support of our bid. Neither City of Culture nor the European Capital of Culture have been awarded to the North East and it’s time one of them was.”
She said Wearsiders understood the difference a successful bid would make to the city: “We understand that change would be fundamental and long lasting. And it’s not just about the huge investment which would follow – Hull forecasts more than £3bn will have flowed into the city thanks to being this year’s City of Culture.
“Attracting an extra 1.6 million of visitors, UK City of Culture would change the way Sunderland is perceived regionally, nationally and internationally. The city that to some has become the symbol of Brexit would once again be seen as the warm, welcoming, modest, hardworking, tolerant, creative and innovative city we know it is.
“Wearsiders also understand how a successful bid would improve our health and well-being and help us become a more cohesive city. After outlining what the 2021 programme of events and activities would look like, Ms Elliott concluded: “I want everyone to know just how special Sunderland is, and more than that what City of Culture status will do for this city.
“My city is a truly wonderful place for creativity. It is ambitious, brave and collaborative, and our bid is too. Winning UK City of Culture 2021 would bring so much to our city. It would help reaffirm that Sunderland’s best days are not behind us, but most definitely still to come.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, added that it was a bid for the whole of Wearside, and one from which all constituents would benefit from the city’s resurgence and growth.
In responding, John Glen MP, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, thanked Ms Elliott for calling the debate and joked he was surprised that representatives from Swansea, Stoke, Coventry and Paisley hadn’t attended to ‘intervene aggressively.’
He went on to pay tribute to Coun Paul Watson, former Leader of Sunderland City Council, who died earlier this month: “I know Coun Watson was a passionate and influential campaigner for Sunderland and the North East, and was a great supporter of the bid.”
He said the City of Culture competition was one of the UK’s ‘crown jewels’ that had the potential to regenerate and transform a city.
The Minister said that Sunderland had been a ‘great shipbuilding city,’ and had since reinvented itself with developments such as the National Glass Centre, the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.
“Sunderland has always been a place that has shown cultural leadership,” he said. “In common with some of the other City of Culture cities, Sunderland has needed to reinvent itself and in this context has used arts and culture to forge a new identity. Looking forward it is absolutely clear that there is a clear cultural vision for Sunderland including the new MAC quarter and the restoration of significant heritage sites like Hylton Castle and Roker Pier. In common with the other shortlisted areas, Sunderland has the heritage, vision, infrastructure and cultural leadership to be the next City of Culture.”
He concluded by wishing the city the best of luck in its bid.
City of Culture judges visited the city earlier in November before a panel from the bid team makes a final presentation to the judges in Hull early next month. Our bid is being considered alongside others from Coventry, Paisley, Swansea and Stoke. A decision is expected soon after the December presentations.
Rebecca Ball, Director of Sunderland 2021, said: “We’re very grateful to Julie Elliott for raising the profile of our bid through the Parliamentary debate. As Wearside MPs, Julie, Sharon and Bridget have been very supportive throughout the bidding process.”
See more on the debate here
Watch the full thing here