Luton to invest £350k researching whether to make City of Culture bid

Luton Carnival
Luton Carnival

First came Luton’s battle of the bins, now it’s the culture clash …

Luton’s Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors are on collision course again over the borough council’s interest in bidding to be UK City of Culture in 2025.

The thorny issue is the planned £350,000 spend on consultation and research into whether the town submits a bid to show off its cultural diversity.

The town which failed to gain city status six years’ ago is now keen to explore it’s suitability and capability to wow the public in 2025.

“It would put Luton on the cultural map,” a meeting of the council’s executive heard on Monday as the spend was agreed.

“The process of bidding is valuable even if it does not win,” according to Labour Barnfield councillor Rachel Hopkins.

“It will change the concept of Luton, improve the town’s profile nationally and internationally, and show its diversity, history and sense of community,” she said.

“It will bring funding into the town and strengthen existing partnerships,” she added. “The value of tourism would be in excess of £300m.

“It won’t just be a town centre focused programme. It would be for Luton, for Lutonians, about Lutonians.”

Council vice-chairman and Labour Farley councillor Sian Timoney said: “You can see how much regeneration work is going on here.

“We recognise it’s a lot of money, but it will pay back in dividends over future years.”

But the Liberal Democrats are critical of the process which will see taxpayers’ money spent on whether Luton should submit a bid.

“It’s a very worthy cause, but let’s get the basic housekeeping right first,” said Liberal Democrat leader and Barnfield councillor David Franks.

“We would love to give this our wholehearted support, but every day I get complaints from residents about council services which are falling to bits. Our roads and pavements have never been in such a poor condition.

“We have out of control litter because they have sacked half the street cleaning team.

“And we have children’s play areas where the grass is knee high,” he added.

“What the Lib Dem councillors are saying is right now there are better ways to spend £350,000 of taxpayers’ money.”

Large towns are allowed to bid for City of Culture status, which is awarded every four years.

The attractions include boosting tourism, business interests and inward investment, and the chance to show off cultural gems, the Arts and local heritage.

Fresh from its purple flag success in the town centre, the Labour-run council appears keen to exploit this success.

But council leader Hazel Simmons appears to be taking a low key approach for the time being, as she addressed the subject last week.

The Labour Lewsey councillor will see how her colleagues and the public “buy into the concept over the next two years”, with various cultural events locally.

“There a really exciting programme over the next two years,” she explained.

“We’ve had the recent women’s voting issue, and there’s the end of the First World War centenary celebrations to come later on.

“Next year it will be a hundred years since the burning down of Luton Town Hall, and a programme of events is in place.

“Elsewhere there’s the work of the Cultural Trust at the Bute Street end of town, such as the new Hat Factory,” she said.

“We have 130 different languages spoken in Luton, and we want to be celebrating more.

“I like to listen to my fellow councillors. If they argue the case for the UK City of Culture we will see what comes out.”

The final bidding process is expected to take place in 2020.