Crunch time for Luton's bid to become UK City of Culture 2025

Luton Carnival
Luton Carnival

A decision on whether Luton bids to become UK City of Culture 2025 is set to be made next month.

A report on Harnassing Momentum, the borough council’s strategy for arts, culture and the creative industries, was presented to its overview and scrutiny board.

“We’ve been delivering a pilot year of culture to evaluate whether we will go for UK City of Culture 2025,” said the local authority’s cultural enabler Michaela Nutt.

“So we’ve mainly been evaluating the impact of large scale arts and cultural activity on Luton’s people and places.

“We have been looking at how arts and culture can be at the heart of town centre regeneration.

A successful UK City of Culture bid would enable Luton to display its cultural diversity. The benefits could include:

> Improved community cohesion and civic pride;

> Developing residents’ creative skills;

> Securing increased business investment;

> Promoting the town centre as a safe place to visit;

> Attracting more visitors to Luton;

> Boost for night time economy.

“Another aspect is the cultural development fund,” the cultural enabler told the board.

“There was an unsuccessful bid for government funding,” she said. “But it showed all of the large arts and cultural organisations in Luton, as well as the grassroots artists, could come together and agree on the framework for the way forward.

“We’re using a lot of that work to apply for new funds and to potentially feed into the town centre masterplan.

“There is the Hat District, as well. The Hat Factory has just reopened after 18 months of renovation.

“With our support, we expect they will be working closely with 2020 Developments Luton to ensure the connection from the station down Guildford Street to the new stadium is animated and provides other aspects for our visitor economy to thrive.”

Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Peter Chapman asked what talks had been held with the football club about the auditorium or music venue for around 2,000 people at Power Court.

She replied: “I had conversations saying we support the development of that venue.

“We would want it accessible to other artistic outputs, rather than just music, so that we could potentially be able to house large scale touring productions, for example.”

Councillor Chapman said: “I am worried it’s going to be a major lost opportunity.

“Luton is the largest borough in Britain without a venue which can hold more than 700 people. There’s no town with a population of 100,000 that hasn’t got a venue which can hold over 700 people.

“Yet we’ve got a population of 220,000 without one. Surely it must be top of the list,” he added.

“I just feel the problem is if we don’t get this large venue where people can experience these things together, you can hold all these events, but it never really lasts because we haven’t got the infrastructure to do that.

“Gary Sweet said last week they are reviewing the content of their application because a series of things have changed.

“Every time we get turned down for a grant we should ask why we are the largest town in Britain without an auditorium.”

“Definitely,” she said. “I can escalate that.”

A meeting of the borough council’s executive on November 11th will consider the UK City of Culture bid, which is open to large towns.

The final 2025 bidding process is due to take place next year.