Cllr Brian Pope is the Alliance Party Group Leader on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon should be given all the local powers necessary to win the race to become UK City of Culture 2025.
It is fantastic news that Armagh and the surrounding borough have been officially listed to compete for this coveted title. We share an impressive heritage both architecturally and socially, and the area has been a centre of cultural and creative expression for many thousands of years.
The official announcement confirms that a record 20 places from across the UK have put forward a bid and the winner will be announced next year. Entrants to the competition have been asked to prove that they can put culture at the heart of their plans to recover from the pandemic.
So, a successful bid will not only need to rely on a broad offering of literature, music, arts, sports science and history but also demonstrate the economic benefits to the city and wider area.
The area already boasts an impressive food heartland and scientific and industrial excellence, but infrastructure and related deficits have historically held the area back from reaching its full potential.
Therefore, the role of regeneration and infrastructural renewal cannot be ignored.
To demonstrate the importance of this, in 2010, when Derry / Londonderry was announced as UK City of Culture 2013 the organisers highlighted the potential economic and social benefits in addition to their impressive cultural programme.
Coventry, the current UK City of Culture, has also benefited from financial support, including over £15.5 million from the Government.
This highlights the importance of the economic legacy aspects. It is an opportunity to reimagine a city and area through local passion, connectivity and engagement across all communities and sectors.
However, there is one key question: Does the council area possess the necessary local powers to improve connectivity and essential regeneration, and help win this race?
Recently at Council, a motion calling for the transfer of full regeneration powers and resources from Stormont to local councils was successfully passed but a rather lukewarm response was subsequently received from the Department for Communities.
The Department’s reply stated that it is aware there had been calls for legislation to transfer regeneration powers to local government, but this has previously lacked consensus and therefore the Department does not have immediate plans to revisit this issue.
This is hugely disappointing, especially at a time when these powers could help regenerate the area and bolster the case to become the UK City of Culture 2025.
Photo by Flying jacket, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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